Up to 400 unionized truck drivers have joined non-unionized truckers at protests outside Port Metro Vancouver container terminals after their union voted Saturday to reject a mediated back-to-work plan.

Picket lines have been set up at nine separate locations around Metro Vancouver, including the main Port of Vancouver and Deltaport as well as at several trucking companies that carry containers to and from the port.

Port truckers strike

Striking container truckers keep warm at Deltaport. Up to 400 unionized container truck drivers walked off the job today and set up picket lines (CBC)

Gavin McGarrigle, B.C. area director​ of the Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association, said this strike could have been avoided.

"Quite frankly, the economic conditions for container truck drivers are simply intolerable," he said.

"This is a really dire situation. Our union has been warning the federal and provincial governments for years now that the situation was going to come to a head and that a shutdown was inevitable."

McGarrigle, said 98 per cent of the more than 300 unionized members voted to reject the tentative return-to-work agreement drawn up by mediator Vince Ready on Thursday.

"This will have an immediate impact on the ports, because there won't be a lot of container truck traffic moving — this is almost 50 per cent of the traffic."

Hard time surviving

The union said the average rate of pay for truckers moving containers to or from Port Metro Vancouver is $15.59 an hour, whereas the average rate of pay in the B.C. trucking industry is $23 an hour.

The union said the average rate of pay for truckers moving containers to or from Port Metro Vancouver is $15.59 an hour, whereas the average rate of pay in the B.C. trucking industry is $23 an hour.

Paul Johal

Unifor union president Paul Johal says container truck drivers, who haven't had a wage increase in eight years, are having a hard time surviving (CBC)

"The immediate economics of the situation for our members is just intolerable," he said after the vote. "That's why they gave us the result they did."

Union president Paul Johal said his members are demanding increased pay rates that would be standardized and enforced across the trucking sector to put an end to undercutting.

"We're having a hard time surviving," said Johal. "The cost of living has gone through the roof and there's been no rate increase for the last eight years. We're at a time where we can no longer pull our trucks"

Port officials said security has been increased at all four container terminals.

"Facing the prospect of continued disruption of port operations by disgruntled container truckers, Port Metro Vancouver is taking immediate steps to enhance the safety of the port for working truckers," said a statement released by the port on Sunday.

Deltaport strikers

Striking container truckers keep warm at Deltaport. Up to 400 unionized container truck drivers walked off the job today and set up picket lines (CBC/Belle Puri)

According to Port Metro Vancouver as many as 2,000 trucks move about $885 million worth of cargo every week in and out of the four container ship terminals.

Vincent Uy, who owns a food distribution centre, said consumers might not notice anything immediately, but if the picket lines stay up, costs of some items may rise.             

"I don't like to say devastating, but it will hurt us," he said. "[If] we cannot fill the orders, there are no sales. If there are no sales, there's no money to be made. It affects the bottom line."           

Union joins non-unionized members

The Unifor-VCTA members already voted in favour of a strike on March 1 and had threatened to walk out at noon Thursday, but they agreed to discuss their outstanding issues after Ready was appointed by federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.

The port said it was already feeling the effects of work stoppages begun by some non-unionized truckers — effects that will only worsen now that unionized truckers have joined the job action.

Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers Association protest

After more than 18 months of failed negotiations, Unifor-VCTA members voted 98 per cent in favour of a strike on March 1. (CBC)

Port Metro Vancouver is suing the United Truckers Association, which represents at least 1,000 non-union truckers, over damage caused by what it calls disruptive protesting and property destruction.

In a statement of claim filed late last month, the port alleged the group damaged container trucks, threatened drivers trying to access port lands and threw rocks and debris at vehicles. The allegations have not been proven in court.

But Manny Dosange, spokesman for the United Truckers Association, said the lawsuit was a driving factor in the group's decision Saturday to remain on strike.

Dosange said there's no proof his members were behind the alleged offences, and any civil action should wait until a potential criminal investigation is complete.

Twitter: About a dozen truck drivers set up picket at corner of Commissioners Street at New Brighton Park.

With files from the CBC's Belle Puri and the Canadian Press