Date: Thursday, November 25, 2021
Container truckers at two carriers serving the Port of Vancouver have voted to authorize a strike, threatening another major disruption at Canada’s busiest port as it recovers from the shutdown of rail service.
Drivers for Aheer Transportation and Prudential Transportation “voted overwhelmingly to strike if necessary” to secure a new agreement, their union, Unifor, said in a statement on Tuesday. The drivers are seeking health and dental benefits and increased pay for waiting times.
“We’re talking about an environment where you have a shortage of truckers, you have containers setting record volumes, and truckers don’t even have health and dental benefits at all,” Unifor Western Regional Director Gavin McGarrigle told American Shipper.
A strike would affect about 200 of the roughly 1,700 drivers serving the port. It could come as early as next week, McGarrigle said.
If a strike goes forward, it would come as the port faces an enormous backlog of cargo from the shutdown of CN and Canadian Pacific’s rail service to Vancouver. As of Wednesday evening, 43 vessels were waiting to dock at the port.
“With the supply chain issues and the flooding and everything that we’ve had, you can’t afford to take 200 trucks out of the system,” McGarrigle said.
On Wednesday, CP trains arrived in Vancouver — carrying grain and fuel — for the first time since flooding and landslides led to the shutdown of a key portion of the railway’s line in British Columbia. CN was expected to resume limited service on Wednesday.
The port is no stranger to labor disputes involving truckers. In 2014, container operations slowed to a near-standstill after a two-week strike by about 400 unionized truckers.
While drivers from Aheer and Prudential represent a significantly smaller portion of port truckers, a strike could have a serious impact as the port handles the backlog from the rail shutdown coupled with existing record volumes this year.
Canadian labor expert Sara Slinn, a professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said while the ability of the truckers to disrupt the supply chain gives them leverage, the catastrophic flooding in British Columbia brings “a pretty high risk of direct government intervention.”
“Port workers of all stripes have pretty significant bargain power right now, but at the same time, it really is a crisis situation in parts of the province right now,” Slinn told American Shipper. “I think it’s not an unreasonable argument that a strike would be a threat to the economy.”
Aheer Transportation and Prudential Transportation did not respond to requests for comment.