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Deal in Vancouver port strike sets a benchmark, union leader says

The new port deal will increase trip rates for truckers and provide a minimum hourly rate for all hourly drivers. Container truck drivers travel through Port Metro Vancouver a day after a deal was reached to end a strike, in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday March 27, 2014. The union and non-union truckers agreed to return to work and Port Metro Vancouver agreed to rescind all trucker licence suspensions where no criminal charges were laid against drivers. The federal government will increase trip rates by 12 per cent and wait fees for truckers at the ports will be increased.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

With a month-long dispute by non-union truckers settled, goods are moving again at Canada's largest port, but some in the business community say the Port of Vancouver has some image repair work ahead.

"This will become the benchmark in Canada for how we're going to deal with ports. It's a significant victory," Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, speaking for his 250 workers, said Thursday.

Earlier this month, those truckers joined about 1,000 non-union truckers represented by the United Truckers Association of B.C., who had walked off in February in a protest of working conditions. The result entangled billions of dollars in cargo at the port's four terminals – what Mr. Dias labelled "a $130-million-a-day problem."

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Although Premier Christy Clark was in the spotlight as a deal was announced this week, Mr. Dias credited Jobs Minister Shirley Bond for meeting unions on the final path to an agreement.

Ms. Bond was in the room when Mr. Dias arrived at the legislature, summoned Wednesday by B.C. civil servants after he arrived in the capital to denounce planned provincial back-to-work legislation.

"That Shirley Bond is one smart, driven, tough woman," Mr. Dias said Thursday, chuckling. "What I do for a living? I bargain. It's about respect and it's about trust. I realized right off the bat this was a woman who was strong and could deliver." He said she clearly "had the ability and the respect of her government to deal candidly with me and find resolution and she did that."

With an agreement done, mediator Vince Ready will get going over the next 90 days to work out the final details. The deal will increase trip rates for truckers by 12 per cent over the current rates. There's also going to be a 14-per-cent increase in the fuel surcharge and a minimum hourly rate for all hourly drivers.

"Truck drivers will see thousands and thousands more dollars in their pockets," Mr. Dias said.

Robin Silvester, president and CEO of Port Metro Vancouver, said his agency is committed to the agreement to bring stability to the industry, avert undercutting of agreed rates and cut waiting times.

"We anticipate it will take some time for traffic at the port's four container terminals to return to normal operations as terminal operators work to clear the backlog of containers that move by truck," he said in a statement. Mr. Silvester was otherwise unavailable for comment.

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But David Crawford, vice-president of the Vancouver Board of Trade, noted that the cost of the agreement will trickle down to business owners.

And there is a need for image repair, he said.

"With respect to Port Metro Vancouver and the Canadian supply chain, we've damaged our reputation," he said.

The solution is larger than resolving the strike, he said, but must include figuring out how to ensure the supply chain isn't similarly disrupted in future. "It's about delivering a credible long-term plan," he said.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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