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'Serious' plan to end port strike waits on truckers

A truck is loaded with a container at Deltaport. Hundreds of container truckers are refusing to work over longer waits at port terminals. - Port Metro Vancouver
A truck is loaded with a container at Deltaport. Hundreds of container truckers are refusing to work over longer waits at port terminals.
— image credit: Port Metro Vancouver

A joint federal-provincial plan to end the strike crippling the flow of containers through Port Metro Vancouver is now awaiting a response from union and non-union truckers.

Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt signed off Thursday on the commitments to resolve truckers complaints that centre on rate undercutting and long terminal wait times that cost them money.

"We expect the trucking industry to do their part and immediately return to work," Raitt said, adding she has directed Port Metro Vancouver to implement the changes.

SFU urban studies professor Peter Hall, an expert on the dispute, called the plan a "serious attempt" to solve the long-running problems.

He cautioned the devil will be in the details because many of the promises lack specifics, so truckers are being asked to put considerable trust in the rollout.

The 14-point plan offers an immediate 10 per cent jump in rates paid for each container moved, as well as a review of other hourly wages and fuel surcharges with changes to kick in by mid-2015.

Terminals will also have to pay truckers $25 per container when they wait more than two hours to load.

Bolstered provincial audits and other measures, including a whistleblower provision, are pledged to ensure port-licensed trucking firms abide by industry rates and that fuel surcharges flow through to drivers.

Port Metro Vancouver would reinstate port licences of truckers it had suspended who don't face criminal charges for alleged violence or vandalism, and end a lawsuit against the United Truckers Association.

Initial reforms are pledged by June 15, including steps to control the proliferation of licensed trucks and to introduce new licence charges that fund enforcement and expansion of the port's GPS tracking system for trucks.

A pilot project to extend hours at port terminals is also promised this spring, allowing limited evening trips – which may be subsidized through industry fees – with an aim of reducing port congestion and lineups during the day.

Hall called it an "interesting" effort to compensate truckers for long waits, while seeking to make terminal operations more efficient and tighten screws on industry players who upset the balance being sought.

He said independent owner-operators may balk at accepting full GPS tracking of their trucks, which he said "opens up all kinds of monitoring."

Tracking could precisely verify terminal waits so truckers could be accurately compensated, he said, but it could also be used to enforce everything from truck route compliance to use of toll bridges.

"It could be a very powerful weapon in somebody's hands."

Nearly 300 Unifor-represented container truckers have been on strike since March 10, joining several hundred more non-union owner-operators with the United Trucking Association who halted work late last month.

Unifor reps have called for an over-arching agreement to cover the entire industry, but the proposed plan would preserve the current mix of company-employed union and non-union drivers, as well as independent owner-operators in the container trucking business, subject to tighter regulation.

B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone on Thursday warned the port is "down on its knees" due to the dispute, with mills and plants closing and ships preparing to reroute to Seattle.

Stone said employees at pulp mills, sawmills and other shipping-dependent businesses are starting to be laid off because their goods can't be shipped. There are 90,000 people whose jobs depend on the port, and 60,000 of them are in B.C., he said.

Half of the containers move through the port by rail and are not affected by the strike.

Some truckers have continued to work, with container truck shipments running at 10 to 25 per cent of normal.

- with files from Tom Fletcher

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