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Truckers picket Pitt Meadows container yard

Baljinder Singh Gill (front) and other truckers picket in front of the CP Rail intermodal yard in Pitt Meadows on Tuesday. - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Baljinder Singh Gill (front) and other truckers picket in front of the CP Rail intermodal yard in Pitt Meadows on Tuesday.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

It’s still early since container truck drivers stopped hauling goods from Port Metro Vancouver, and the full effects of a potentially crippling economy are yet to be felt.

The 300 members of Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association went on strike Monday, after rejecting a mediated settlement. They joined the non-unionized United Truckers Association, drivers who walked off the job Feb. 26.

Drivers from the latter union have set up an information picket outside CP Rail’s Pitt Meadows intermodal container yard.

“No one has called me saying anything, yea or nay,” about the strike, said Terry Becker, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce president.

“Would love to hear from them if they do. Happy to speak to them if there’s anything we can do to help out, if they’re having an issue.”

At the Maple Ridge Canadian Tire, it’s going to take awhile for the strike to take effect.

Goods from Asia are shipped from Vancouver to warehouses in either Calgary or Toronto, said Dan Orr.

Then it’s sorted and distributed to B.C. Canadian Tire stores.

“There’s nothing noticeable at our end.”

But if goes on, people will be looking for their garden sets, he added.

Half a dozen or so drivers from the United Truckers Association stationed outside the Pitt Meadows yard Tuesday called for the federal government to help settle the dispute. Drivers say they can’t make money because of long wait times and low rates for hauling goods from the port to various points around the Lower Mainland.

“It takes six to seven hours to do one trip,” said Jas Dhillon, from Mission.

Truckers get a minimum of $100 for a short trip to a maximum of $175 for longer ones, such as to Abbotsford.

From that, they have to pay for vehicle loans, insurance, fuel and maintenance. When all the overhead is paid, truckers are clearing $10 an hour, Dhillon added.

UTA members are calling for a hourly wage to be paid to drivers once they are on Port Metro Vancouver property to make up for unpaid waiting time.

Dump truck drivers are now paid hourly, he added.

The truckers are paid to haul freight by dozens of shipping companies, but Port Metro Vancouver sets the rates, the drivers said.

According to Port Metro Vancouver, 63 per cent of trucks wait less than an hour to pick up their cargo, while about five per cent wait longer than two hours.

The 300 members of Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association previously voted for strike action March 1 and last week issued strike notice before federally appointed mediator Vince Ready entered the talks.

“Our members have spoken: the deal was too little, too late,” Unifor-VCTA president Paul Johal said after Saturday’s vote.

Both the unionized truckers and several hundred other non-union truckers who have already withdrawn service say long line-ups and wait times at Port Metro Vancouver terminals are costing them money.

“We welcome the involvement of Vince Ready, but the feedback I’ve gotten is that our members need to see something far more immediate to improve their economic position,” said Unifor’s Gavin McGarrigle.

Unifor-VCTA’s collective agreement expired in June 2012. They are demanding increased pay rates and want the rates standardized and enforced across the sector to put an end to undercutting.

The non-unionized United Truckers Association drivers walked off the job Feb. 26 and there have since been accusations of vandalism, intimidation and violence in the dispute. Port officials have vowed to terminate the licences of about 40 truckers in response.

Port Metro Vancouver said it will seek to continue and expand its court injunction to keep protesters off port property. The port said it will also bolster security at critical locations for truck traffic heading to or from the port – one truck had its window smashed by a thrown rock last week. It will also continue putting security staff in trucks to help drivers heading to terminals and record any incidents.

Port Metro Vancouver says the current disruption at the port is having a serious impact on the free flow of goods through the Vancouver Gateway.

“The impact of truckers walking off the job is in the order of about $885 million per week,” said Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester, referring to the weekly value of goods moved by container truck in the region.

Ready, appointed by federal transportation minister Lisa Raitt, is to issue recommendations by May 30 after a detailed review of the Port Metro Vancouver trucking industry.

“The purpose of Mr. Ready’s appointment was to conduct a review of an industry that is clearly not functioning well for all stakeholders,” Silvester said. “We agree that truckers should be paid a fair wage, but bargaining relating to employment and contract relationships can only be done with the employer or the parties to the contract. Port Metro Vancouver is not the employer and is not party to the contract relationships.”

Port Metro Vancouver is Canada’s largest port, handling an estimated 135 million tonnes of cargo in 2013. Approximately 2,000 Port Metro Vancouver licensed trucks service the port, moving containers throughout the Lower Mainland.

– with files from Adrian MacNair

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