Hundreds of trade unionists from across B.C. labour, including nurses, hospital employees, government and telecommunications workers flew their union flags at Canada Place Friday afternoon as they rallied in support of striking Port Metro Vancouver container truck drivers.
B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair stood before the truckers waving a Port Metro Vancouver report.
It says there were record numbers of containers, 2.5 million containers came out of this port, and into this port in the last year. It says there are 80,000 jobs that depend on this. "It says that $175-billion worth of goods go through the port every single year, " Sinclair told them.
Sinclair then produced a second report, this one into the dispute itself, and waved it around.
"This report says that the people that actually make the port work by delivering the containers, work 11- to 12-hour days," he said. "This report says the highest rate of pay is around $35,000 a year."
"This report says there has been no wage increase or rate increase for eight years and in the last eight years because of undercutting, people are making less money today than they were eight years ago."
With the government preparing back-to-work legislation and the port threatening not to renew licences, the B.C. union leader says the drivers have to stand united.
"This is about going to work in the morning, getting paid a decent rate of pay and going home at night with enough money in your pocket to pay your bills. And until they sit down and negotiate with you, you will not be respected," he told them.
'Our members are going hungry and everyone else on the ports is getting rich. Shame!' - Unifor's Gavin McGarrigle
About 1,500 unionized and non-union truck drivers that service the four container terminals at the port have been off the job for nearly three weeks, demanding better wages and shorter wait times to pick up loads.
Gavin McGarrigle with Unifor, the union representing the striking drivers, told the rally, "this dispute is about justice." McGarrigle says it's the third dispute at the port in 15 years and the problem in all three disputes has been undercutting.
"We have met with politicians. We have met with the port. We have filed the briefs," he said. "We have done everything by the book and meanwhile our members are going hungry and everyone else on the ports is getting rich. Shame!"
Late Thursday, the port put out a news release suggesting trucker solidarity was failing, saying 40 per cent of container truck traffic was moving again, "the highest level since the trucking disruption began."
On Friday, it did the same with a second statement claiming container truck traffic was continuing to pick up as more drivers show up for work.
"Brothers, I've been on that picket line. You've been on that picket line," McGarrigle said to jeers. "There's no way 40 per cent of the people are working. No way."
"Mr Silvester," he continued, referring to port president Robin Silvester, "these workers will not be cowed. We will not be bullied. We will not be swayed. We need to get around the negotiating table."
The truckers are seeking a negotiated solution to the ongoing labour dispute. But the B.C. government plans to introduce legislation on Monday to force unionized truckers back to work and the port says it will not be renewing old licences or awarding new ones to truckers who do not show up for work.
B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone has also said all negotiations are off until containers are moving again.
"Rates, licensing, wait times, any concerns truckers have will only take place once truckers go back to work," Stone said prior to the rally.
Unifor says deal was there
Trucker Ravinder Garcha wonders why hardball tactics are taking the place of negotiations.
"We are sort of being bullied and pushed into doing something we didn't want to do in the first place," he said.
"What we wanted to do was sit down, negotiate — talk with the government and the port."
Unifor's Gavin McGarrigle claims there was a deal, but shipping interests killed it.
"We thought we were getting close. We had a recommended deal that all of our bargaining committee signed and recommended to the employers," he said.
"And they told us, as soon as the back-to-work legislation was out there, that all of a sudden the employers got cold feet because the shippers told them not to agree to anything."
Back-to-work legislation coming
The B.C. government says the back-to-work legislation will apply to about 250 unionized drivers who went on strike March 10. The legislation, which could be introduced as early as Monday, includes a 90-day cooling off period.
Non-union truckers aren't affected by the legislation, but they must be licensed by the port to operate — licences the port is threatening not to renew if they don't report for work.
Port Metro Vancouver is the country's busiest port and the strike by truckers has been impacting $100 million worth of goods every day.
The strike started Feb. 26 when non-union container truckers withdrew their services. They were joined by unionized drivers in early March.
The truck drivers are demanding standardized rates of pay across the trucking sector to prevent undercutting and a reduction in wait times at the port.