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UPDATED: Port truckers set to strike Thursday amid tensions

United Truckers Association members walked off the job on Thursday, Feb. 27 to protest working conditions and to call on the federal and provincial governments to appoint a mediator to resolve the issue with Port Metro Vancouver and ports of delivery. - Adrian MacNair
United Truckers Association members walked off the job on Thursday, Feb. 27 to protest working conditions and to call on the federal and provincial governments to appoint a mediator to resolve the issue with Port Metro Vancouver and ports of delivery.
— image credit: Adrian MacNair

Unionized container truck drivers say they will begin a strike at Port Metro Vancouver terminals at noon Thursday unless their outstanding concerns are addressed.

Truckers represented by Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers Association (VCTA) issued 72-hour strike notice Monday after an overwhelming strike vote Saturday.

Several hundred independent non-union truckers already halted work last week.

Truckers say wait times to pick up containers at the port's terminals have become far too long and have demanded federal and provincial government intervention in the dispute. Longer waits mean fewer trips completed each day and less pay.

The VCTA contract expired in June 2012 and it also wants standardized rates set and enforced to address the perennial problem of various truckers undercutting each other.

"Without any progress on improving rates, dealing with undercutting and fixing growing line-ups at the ports, we have no choice but to take job action," VCTA president Paul Johal said.

Port Metro Vancouver, meanwhile, has vowed to terminate the port-access licences  of some container truckers it accuses of resorting to violence and sabotage against those who have continued working.

The B.C. Trucking Association, which represents trucking companies, said brake lines were cut on two trucks that tried to load at terminals last week when they encountered protesting truckers.

The port obtained an interim court injunction Friday to prevent further interference with trucks at terminals and released a video it said shows a protester cutting a brake line.

"Things are being thrown at trucks, things are being said to the drivers," BCTA president Louise Yako said. "There are reports of drivers being called at home and very strongly encouraged not to come to work."

Yako said many companies and drivers are extremely frustrated and want to keep working and serving their customers.

Western Canadian Shippers' Coalition chairman Ian May said the demand by the United Truckers Association of owner-operators for $100 per hour compensation when they idling more than an hour in port line-ups would render the Lower Mainland's container export business uncompetitive.

The UTA has also called for a mediator, mirroring what was done in 2005 to end a six-week work stoppage that paralyzed the port.

Union reps say rates haven't been changed since the deal brokered then by mediator Vince Ready but wait times have grown considerably.

Container truckers deserve fairer compensation for helping the port and the economy grow, said Unifor national president Jerry Dias.

"If workers can't share in that wealth, we'll help shut that port down until they get it."

The port says wages are an issue between truckers and the companies that employ them.

Port officials say wait times are not extreme – most trucks wait less than an hour to pick up a container – but they're pursuing numerous initiatives to speed up shipments.

The BCTA has tabled an eight-point plan it says could help end the dispute.

The proposals include payment of an efficiency fee to trucking firms hurt by delays and extended truck loading hours at port terminals. The port says terminal operators have agreed to an extended hours pilot project.

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