The Office of B.C. Container Trucking Commissioner (OBCCTC) and unionized trucking companies in Greater Vancouver are in heated debates over a new policy that applies port rates to off-dock trucking.
OBCCTC believes this is the way to achieve stability and equal driver pay in the Lower Mainland.
But the Teamsters, who represent both licensed and unlicensed companies, say that enforcing regulated port rates for non-port work exceeds OBCCTC’s jurisdiction, causing financial issues for licensed trucking companies and putting unionized jobs and business stability at risk. According to a recent Teamsters press release, unlicensed trucking companies that are not paying port rates ‘can swoop in and undercut the unionized competition.’
Teamsters Local 31 president Stan Hennessy initiated the formation of a committee to address the off-dock issue. And his position is supported by Surrey-Newton MP, Sukh Dhaliwal.
Earlier this week, a gathering in Surrey saw an assembly of more than 100 truckers listening to Hennessy, Dhaliwal and business agent Amrik Dhillon advocating for the protection of off-dock trucking rights.
But the fact that not all the off-dock container moves are executed by licensees who have access to the port has always been a concern for the drivers and their representatives, says Glen MacInnes, B.C. container trucking commissioner.
“Off-dock enforcement [has] always been an issue, it’s been an issue since this office was created eight years ago.”
The truck tag (licence) is only required for on-dock operations and grants permission to haul containers in and out of the port. There are currently 74 of those assigned by the Commissioner.
Non-licensees, however, do not fall under the commissioners’ jurisdiction and do not have access to the port and subsequently are not required to pay the regulated rate.
This creates competing interests, he adds.
“I’ll have licensees who come to me and say, ‘Commissioner, it’s not fair that I have to pay these off-dock rates when non-licensees don’t have to pay these off-dock rates.’ And then my next meeting will be [a complaint] from the non-licensee, ‘Commissioner, it’s not fair that I don’t get to go to the port and my competition does.’”
In exchange for the licence, the company with assigned truck tags has to pay a minimum regulated off-dock rate, MacInnes says. While the rate depends on the number of hours worked, the top rate reaches $31.67 per hour.
New policy for off-dock rates
The concern is that licensees might want to have a foot in both the regulated and unregulated worlds, which can lead to confusion and problems with enforcement.
MacInnes also explains that drivers’ responsibilities aren’t limited to shuttling back and forth from the port. They’re assigned various tasks, such as going to a rail yard and other locations.
“[If] they’re not paid properly, that’s when the industry becomes unstable. They feel like they’re not making enough money to support themselves, or [their] family, or pay for the truck.”
But the Teamsters say the absence of any threat to non-licensed companies leaves union-affiliated companies in a double bind.
“Compliance with the port rate in the private sector risks massive undercutting and loss of work, while non-compliance risks the revocation of port tags, hindering operations at the port, and further jeopardizing union members and their companies,” the union wrote in a release.
Teamsters added the OBCCTC’s decision has caused layoffs of approximately 30 owner-operators at a single company.
MacInnes says he is aware of the layoffs, but points out that some of the drivers were able to return to work since. He does admit others are still out of jobs, as their employer refuses to pay the regulated rate for containers that they believe were never meant to be captured under the Container Trucking Act.
Upcoming court case
Simard Westlink, for example, took its case to the court. The company seeks to challenge the OBCCTC’s decision in February.
This comes after earlier this year, in September, the commissioner posted its decision ordering the company to pay a regulated rate for the drivers after OBCCTC’s internal investigation concluded that Simard Westlink was using untagged (unlicensed) trucks to move containers within the Lower Mainland.
The decision reads that the company’s two drivers were paid less than the regulated rate, while the company used services of an independent operator (IO) that was not on the IO list.
An administrative fine of $12,000 was proposed by OBCCTC.
“It has always been the position of the office: the interpretation of the Container Trucking Act is [that if] you’re moving a container, you’re licensed [and] you have to pay a regulated rate.”
MacInnes says the company challenges OBCCTC’s interpretation of the Act, arguing that off-dock moves that go to the railway and from the railway aren’t captured under the Act, and therefore, should not be subjected to the minimum requirements of the Commissioner-enforced rate.
But both sides are expecting to reach a solution sooner rather than later.
“Hopefully, one way or the other, this will get resolved through a court decision in February. And [then] we can proceed from there,” said MacInnes.
The Teamsters say the fate of unionized off-dock truckers hangs in the balance, awaiting a resolution that could redefine the landscape of trucking regulations in Greater Vancouver.
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