New trucking regime brings stability to Vancouver’s port

Unionization of Vancouver’s port truckers is turning out to be a good deal for the truckers and for Metro Port Vancouver.
The July 2005 wildcat strike of the port by 1,200 independent truckers lasted more than a month, veered into violence and marred the port’s international reputation.
It took government intervention and an agreement drafted by mediator Vince Ready to restore peace, establish basic rates, and end constant under-cutting of prices.
Trucking companies had to be forced into the new regime kicking and screaming, while the drivers organized themselves into Local 2006 of the Canadian Autoworkers.
A recipe for continued strife?
Not at all. Ready’s agreement rolled over in 2006 and expired in August 2007, when it was replaced by a new CAW agreement. Truckers saw their take-home earnings rise significantly and dispatch processes became more orderly and predictable.
When three firms were unable to agree on new terms in April this year, 120 CAW drivers took a strike vote.
Back to war? No again: on May 1, the CAW ratified a new agreement with those employers, confirming the value of union representation for drivers and the port itself.
Even if the members of CAW Local 2006 had gone on strike, says CAW representative Stu Shields, their job action would have affected their employers, not port operations. Under the new arrangement “the port won’t even know there’s a dispute” unless affected companies attempt to use replacement workers.
Although some port trucking firms fought tooth and nail against the new regime, none are campaigning for a return to the pre-2005 instability.
When the Ready agreement neared expiry in 2007, hundreds of truckers mounted a massive cavalcade over the Alex Fraser Bridge and down to Canada Place to underline their unity and determination to port authorities.
Claiming both the port and trucking companies were seeking to roll back the clock, the truckers clogged the downtown core for several hours.
This triggered direct intervention a few weeks later from the Harper Conservatives, who introduced regulations entrenching the Ready agreement as the minimum standard for remuneration of owner-operators who weren’t working under the Vancouver Container Truckers Association agreement with the CAW.
The goal of the regulations was clear: an end to competitive under-cutting among owner operators. In the absence of the award, the regulations noted, renewed undercutting “could lead to the same conditions that prevailed during the disruption of 2005 and, in turn, could impact on the national transportation system in its entirety.”
In effect, says Sheilds, the CAW agreement is the minimum standard. Even if truckers are not members of the union, their firm cannot work the port unless it upholds those conditions.
The latest agreement included no rate increases, given economic conditions, but did improve seniority provisions and benefits, paid for by the truckers but now deducted at source.
Since 2005, drivers have seen incomes improve, the port has secured labour stability and the new bargaining regime ensures that disputes, when they do occur, is limited in impact to the parties directly involved.
Given the importance of the port to the BC’s economy – and Canada’s – that’s good news.

May 2009