Deal close in Vancouver port strike: truckers

Container traffic slowed by dispute over pay

VICTORIA – Officials attempting to negotiate an end to a prolonged strike at Canada’s largest port were close to reaching an agreement Wednesday, said representatives for unionized and non-unionized truckers at Port Metro Vancouver.

The United Truckers’ Association of B.C., which represents more than 1,000 non-union truckers at Vancouver-area container terminals, and Unifor, which represents about 250 union workers, were set to hold a news conference Wednesday morning at the provincial legislature in Victoria, but it was repeatedly delayed.

In between meetings at the legislature, Iqbal Grewal of the truckers’ association said there has been progress this week.

“They discussed some points which we agree on,” said Grewal. “That’s what we brought here.”

Asked if a settlement was close, Grewal replied: “Yes.”

Later in the day, Unifor president Jerry Dias emerged from a room after a meeting between the union, the truckers’ association, B.C. Labour Minister Shirley Bond and Transportation Minister Todd Stone.

“Hopefully soon,” said Dias.

The province tabled back-to-work legislation earlier this week that would have affected the unionized workers, while the port warned all striking workers wouldn’t have their licences renewed.

The dispute has largely focused on issues related to pay, including rates, unpaid time spent at the port waiting for cargo, and allegations of undercutting within the industry.

B.C., Ottawa and the port put forward a 14-point plan two weeks ago in an attempt to allay the truckers’ concerns, but they quickly dismissed the proposal as inadequate.

The latest negotiations focused on refining the government-backed proposal.

The union has said it wants a higher wage increase, and it also wants fees for wait times to kick in after only one hour, instead of two, and increase over time.

Port Metro Vancouver issued a statement Wednesday afternoon hailing the 14-point plan as the best way to end the dispute.

“There are financial wins in the plan for truckers,” port CEO Robin Silvester said in the statement.

“There is also assurance that increased rates will be paid through better auditing of trucking companies. It is in all of our best interests that truckers come out of this dispute with their issues resolved because disruptions like this hurt each of us and Canada’s international trade reputation deeply.”

The statement also said the port was concerned about “alarming reports of physical violence, threats and vandalism involving local truckers.”

The union and truckers’ association have previously denied any wrongdoing in response to such accusations.

The truckers don’t directly work for the port. They are typically independent contracts, sub-contractors or direct employees of shipping companies.

Trucks account for about half of the traffic in and out of the port, with the other half moving by rail.

Earlier in the strike, the port said truck traffic was at about 10 per cent of normal levels, though it increased to about 40 per cent last week.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.