Truck driver strike at Vancouver port picks up steam

Mon Mar 10, 2014 3:10pm EDT
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By Julie Gordon

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Unionized container truck drivers set up picket lines at Canada's largest port on Monday, joining hundreds of non-unionized workers who walked off the job last month in a dispute over pay and services.

Workers represented by Canada's largest private sector union Unifor rejected a tentative deal on Saturday that could have adverted the job action at Port Metro Vancouver, calling the offer "too little, too late."

They will now join a nearly two-week long strike by non-unionized drivers, which has already crippled operations at the busy port, hitting the export of commodities like lumber and specialized grain products, and the import of consumer goods.

"The impact of truckers walking off the job is in the order of about C$885 million ($796.9 million) per week," Port Metro Vancouver Chief Executive Robin Silvester said in a statement late on Sunday. "Goods are not moving and that is bad news for consumers and businesses."

Rising Asian demand for Canadian products has led to a boom at the city's port facilities, which handled a record 135 million metric tons of cargo in 2013, including about 25 million metric tons of containerized material. The busy port handled C$172 billion in goods in 2012, representing one-fifth of Canada's total trade by value.

But the container truck drivers say they are facing swelling wait times at terminals, which cut into their profits. They are demanding regulated pay rates to help prevent trucking companies from undercutting one another, and a fair hourly wage while waiting.

Container truck drivers are paid by the load and do not make money while waiting in line to load or unload cargo.

Unifor said it was working to get talks back on track for its members, but noted that it is dealing with dozens of individual trucking companies, making coordination difficult.   Continued...