Skip to main content

United Truckers Association members protest over rates and wait times outside the Port of Vancouver in Vancouver, March 3, 2014.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Port Metro Vancouver is expected to suspend dozens of permits amid reports of threats, violence and intimidation in an escalating labour dispute that could widen by week's end.

The port authority and the B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA), which represents trucking companies, say immediate action has to be taken against protesting truckers who have physically and verbally intimidated those who have chosen to keep working.

Allegations include protesting truckers cutting break lines on two trucks and throwing a rock through the driver's side window of a moving truck, injuring its driver.

"It's getting really ugly out there," said Louise Yako, president and CEO of the BCTA. "I've had reports from members who have had trucks out on the road … being pursued by people in cars, surrounding the trucks, yelling at the driver, trying to convince the driver to go back to their terminal and not work. I know that people are being called at home and being told solidarity is required and they shouldn't report to work."

About 20 permit-holders have been served notices of suspension based on evidence collected so far, said Peter Xotta, vice-president of planning and operations at Port Metro Vancouver. He said he could not elaborate on the evidence compiled.

"The proponents, if I remember correctly, have two weeks to respond in writing, to offer a defence, at which point if there is none – or none that is satisfactory – that suspension could proceed to a termination, or will be lifted at that point," Mr. Xotta said. For now, about 40 permits are expected to be suspended in all.

Drivers with the United Truckers Association (UTA) – a non-profit group that represents both unionized and non-unionized drivers – walked off the job last Wednesday to protest against long waiting times at the port. Most container truckers are paid by the load, so a lengthy wait means fewer loads and less money. At noon Thursday, their counterparts at the Vancouver Container Truckers' Association (VCTA), which is a part of Unifor, will be in a strike position as well. Unifor is the country's largest private-sector union.

Gavin McGarrigle, B.C. area director for Unifor, says Unifor-VCTA represents about 400 members, though membership fluctuates depending on time of year. The BCTA has disputed this, arguing it is closer to 250. Meanwhile, the UTA says it represents more than 1,000 members, including employee drivers and owner-operators. The BCTA contends employee drivers, who are paid by the hour, are not affected by waiting times and industry undercutting; the UTA insists they suffer with the same overhead costs.

The BCTA has put forth an eight-point plan in an effort to resolve the work stoppage, with recommendations that include extending gate hours at terminals and introducing a rate-auditing system. The plan was developed by BCTA members – trucking companies – who understand the concerns of drivers, Ms. Yako said. Port Metro Vancouver agreed to it in principle.

However, the drivers' groups dismissed the plan, saying it was devised with no input from individual drivers. "The companies are concerned about their customers and their profit lines," said Manny Dosange, a spokesman for the UTA. "They don't care that their drivers are losing their trucks, or losing their homes, or they don't have money in their pockets."

Regarding accusations of threats and intimidation from UTA members, Mr. Dosange insisted his group does not condone, tolerate or preach violence. "If anybody, whether it be our member or anybody else, if we get any information regarding unlawful acts, we'll be the first ones to report it to the authorities."

Truck activity has dropped about 20 per cent since job action began, said Mr. Xotta, noting there is a compounding effect each day as well as a potentially long-term reputational risk with customers. The port authority estimates that about $885-million worth of cargo is locally by truck each week.

Meanwhile, the port will be lifting a moratorium on full-service operator licences put in place two weeks ago so trucking companies can add trucks to fleets affected by permit suspensions.

Follow me on Twitter: @AndreaWoo