Hundreds of striking container truck drivers converged on downtown Vancouver Friday to demonstrate against plans by the province and the port authority to impose legislation and licence terminations to force them back to work.
A convoy of more than 50 trucks rolled from a pullout on Highway 91 in Delta to downtown, snarling traffic along the way.
Truckers were joined downtown by supporters, including those from other unions, as well as B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair.
The provincial government is expected to pass back-to-work legislation by mid or late this week with a 90-day cooling off period but the unionized drivers it will target are defiant, giving no sign they will comply once the order takes effect.
The port said it will begin freezing non-union drivers out of a new port access system to put pressure on them to resume work.
“I don’t see how you can expect workers to cool off when their rights are being taken away,” Unifor B.C. director Gavin McGarrigle said.
The port, business groups and both the federal and provincial governments have warned the strike that began Feb. 26 and broadened to unionized drivers March 10 is causing serious economic damage across B.C. and beyond.
McGarrigle said port customers are hurting but suggested the port could help by waiving some of the charges they have to pay on containers that are stuck at the terminals. “It’s their inaction that has brought this situation to a head.”
Terminal wait times and persistent rate undercutting by various industry players are the main issues.
Some drivers wore pink T-shirts demanding a stop to bullying and Unifor national president Jerry Dias picked up that theme, criticizing the port’s licence termination threat.
“It’s foolishness. Think about it. We’ve got between the two groups, 1,500 to 1,600 drivers. You’re going to fire everybody? Of course not.”
Dias did not rule out job action at other non-port sites.
“Let’s just say that we’re going to deal with the problem here in Vancouver. If we’re forced to take action in other locations to get our point of view across, we’re prepared to do that.”
Meanwhile the port released a new video (watch below) showing protesters harassing one of the container truck drivers that has continued working.
The video shows the driver, whose face is obscured, being barraged with insults and threats he’ll be beaten.
“Intimidation shown and released today is totally unacceptable,” Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester said.
The port claims significant numbers of drivers have been returning to work, boosting the number of containers moved by truck from a low of 10 per cent of normal two weeks ago to about 40 per cent on Friday.
The port has also been issuing some permits to companies that don’t normally work in container hauling. They’ve redeployed some trucks to work the container terminals.
“Our terminals are now seeing steadily growing truck activity demonstrating there are truckers who want to work and are willing to service the gateway,” Silvester said. “We are also continuing with the reforms we have announced to address the concerns that have been raised.”
Unifor leaders insist relatively few trucks are working.
More than 1,000 non-union United Trucking Association drivers were first to halt work on Feb. 26 and about 250 unionized Unifor drivers have been on strike since March 10.
The provincial and federal governments on March 12 unveiled a 14-point action plan that they argue will do much to address truckers concerns. It provides a 10 per cent jump in rates per container moved, a review of hourly wages and fuel surcharges, and a $25 penalty fee payable to truckers who wait more than two hours to load.
Also pledged are extended loading hours at terminals and other measures to tighten compliance with rates.
That plan was rejected by both driver groups, which denounced the governments’ refusal to negotiate.
Port Metro Vancouver officials deny wait times are as bad as truckers claim, saying GPS data from half of the container trucks on the road show most wait less than an hour at terminals.