Unionized container truck drivers in Vancouver have served a 72-hour strike notice, a threat that if realized could cripple operations at Canada's largest port.
The Vancouver Container Truckers' Association (VCTA), which is part of Unifor and represents about 400 drivers, issued the notice on Monday. This means members could be in a strike position by noon on Thursday if outstanding issues with Port Metro Vancouver are not resolved.
"We've attempted to settle this disagreement at the bargaining table and in discussions with the government," said Unifor-VCTA president Paul Johal in a statement, "but without any progress on improving rates, dealing with undercutting and fixing growing lineups at the ports, we have no choice but to take job action."
Members on Saturday voted 100 per cent in favour of job action. If they do strike this week, they will join more than 1,000 drivers with the United Truckers Association (UTA) – a non-profit group that represents both unionized and non-unionized drivers – who did just that last Wednesday.
The drivers are demanding improvements to long waiting times at the port, more pay and standardized rates across the sector to curb industry undercutting. Unifor-VCTA's collective agreement expired in June of 2012.
"The biggest issue out there is rate stability," said Gavin McGarrigle, B.C. area director for Unifor. "There is tremendous undercutting that goes on across the board. … At the end of the day, waiting times, downloading of costs on to container truckers, treating container truckers as third parties, all of these issues are in the mix and that's why we need a comprehensive agreement this time."
Manny Dosange, a spokesman for the UTA, said backlogs at the port have left container truckers – who are paid by the load – idling in two- to four-hour waits and making only one or two trips per day.
"We used to be turning around five or six per day," he said.
Port Metro Vancouver, which blamed some of the delays on extreme weather, says it is working on new infrastructure to cut down on trucking delays. On Monday, the port authority said it agreed in principle to a proposal provided by the B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA), which represents trucking companies.
Some of the recommendations include extending gate hours at terminals on weekdays and adopting "industrywide funding" to support these extended hours.
However, both the unionized and non-unionized drivers called it a "backroom deal," reached with no input from the drivers themselves.
"Container truckers need to be at the table with all stakeholders with a mediator appointed by the provincial and federal governments to get a real solution," said Mr. McGarrigle, who called for veteran mediator Vince Ready to be brought in. In 2005, Mr. Ready helped end a six-week strike over similar issues.
On the first day of job action last week, the port authority and the BCTA said they received reports that drivers who continued working were met with threats and harassment when they arrived at container terminals.
Two days later, Port Metro Vancouver obtained an injunction preventing protesting truckers from disrupting port operations. Video recorded last Thursday appeared to show members of the UTA stopping and possibly vandalizing a truck that was trying to gain access to the port, the port authority said.