Over 400 truck drivers organized with Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association (Unifor-VCTA) have set up pickets at the Port of Metro Vancouver Authority. They have gone on strike after rejecting a last minute deal that only contained minor concessions from the Metro Vancouver Port authority. They join the 1,000 truck drivers of the United Truck Drivers Association who have been on strike since Feb 26. It is estimated that over 90% of traffic through the port has now been stopped. Both unionized and non-unionized truck drivers are fighting for the right to make a fair living.
For the unionized truckers, their average hourly wage has not increased over the last eight years, and is now more than 30% less than the average wage that truckers elsewhere in BC make. The president of Unifor-VCTA, Paul Johal, commented that more and more truck drivers are having a hard time surviving. The last collective agreement lapsed in 2012, and since then the port authority has taken little action. Although the Port Authority offered the truckers a new deal, it was seen by the unionized drivers as being “too little too late”.
With over 180 companies hiring drivers and managing contracts at the port, there are many opportunities for the management of the different companies to try and undercut one another. Both Unifor-VCTA and the United Truck Drivers Association have complained of illegal undercutting and bribes. Although a new agreement was reached at the end of the 2005 strike, many drivers feel as though the Port Authority has not taken sufficient action to follow up on these complaints, and has been slow in launching investigations. According to Gavin McGarrigle, the BC area director of Unifor, the current situation represents a “failed market”, and that drivers will do what it takes to end the undercutting once and for all. Supporting the efforts of the union to stop undercutting benefits not only the unionized truck drivers, but also the non-unionized ones as well.
In addition to the problems of undercutting, non-unionized truck drivers are also affected by the long wait-times they have to endure in order to unload; most non-unionized drivers are paid by each load they deliver, not an hourly wage. The drivers must book appointments to unload, and by and large, they meet these commitments. The bosses who run the port, however, frequently do not. This means that the drivers are often left waiting for several hours. Since the drivers are paid by the load, and must pay their own expenses (diesel fuel, for instance), this has a real effect on their take-home income. Many drivers are unable to make more than three loads per day due to the long wait times, but they estimate they need to make five or six loads to make ends meet. In the past, drivers were able to meet this but their situation has grown increasingly dire due to the negligence of the Port Authority. These workers are being unjustly hurt by the complete lack of responsibility demonstrated by the Port Authority management!
The Port Authority has already shown an unwillingness to meet the truckers’ demands and the bosses are already showing their lack of good faith. Instead of listening to the needs of the drivers, management has told truck drivers to take their concerns to the individual trucking companies, despite the fact that they have the power to regulate the situation! The ruling class is unwilling to give even a small sliver of the $885-million that moves through the port to address the wage and productivity demands of the workers.
Additionally, the Port Authority has raised a lawsuit against the United Truck Drivers Organization for “unspecified property damage”. The lawsuit is very vague with no details about the alleged damage, and no actual charges have been laid. Most of the drivers have only tried to prevent trucks from passing the picket lines and ask their fellow drivers to join them. The port is currently increasing their security budget, no doubt to try an aid them in the lawsuit. There is no doubt that this lawsuit is a clear attempt to intimidate the workers into going back to work.
Unfortunately, the NDP has not commented much on the port strike, except to say that they hope that full business at the Port of Metro Vancouver can resume as quickly as possible. NDP MP Jasbir Sandhu said, “It’s important to get it fully functioning again, but in a way that is fair to both truckers and business.” It is very clear that business has been benefitting heavily on the backs of truck drivers all these years; the NDP should be fully standing on the side of workers who are looking to do their jobs and get paid a decent wage to do so. The workers deserve better than this milquetoast stand by the NDP leadership.
Once again, we are seeing the inability of the ruling capitalist class to make even basic compromises with workers. Wage increases are a real concern for many workers. Rising living costs in Metro Vancouver have made it very difficult for many to live. The truck drivers are fighting for their livelihood and dignity, and the bosses are using every trick in the book to try and take it from them. Workers from all across Metro Vancouver, BC, and Canada need to stand together!
Solidarity with the truck drivers!
Fight the bosses’ intimidation tactics!
Demand fair pay for all!