Unionized truckers vote to join Vancouver port strike

VANCOUVER, March 1 Sun Mar 2, 2014 12:07am EST

VANCOUVER, March 1 (Reuters) - Unionized container truck drivers at Canada's largest port voted on Saturday to join a strike by their non-unionized colleagues, who walked off the job on Wednesday over a long-running dispute about pay and services.

Unifor, which represents about 400 container truck drivers at Port Metro Vancouver, said its drivers voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the four-day-old work action. The unionized workers must give 72-hour notice before walking off the job.

Both groups are demanding that the port streamline operations to improve wait times or pay drivers a fair hourly wage while waiting. They are also asking for better, standardized pay rates to discourage under-cutting.

"Container truckers, like workers across this country, make the economy work," said Unifor's national president, Jerry Dias, in a statement. "They deserve to be compensated fairly for their role in generating wealth, but if workers can't share in that wealth, we'll help shut that port down until they get it."

Rising Asian demand for Canadian products has led to a boom at Port Metro Vancouver's facilities, which handled a record 135 million tonnes of cargo in 2013, including about 25 million tonnes of containerized material.

Containers are used primarily for the export of lumber, wood pulp and specialized grain products, and the import of household goods and construction materials.

Both Unifor and the United Truckers Association of British Columbia (UTA), a non-profit group representing union and non-union drivers, have been in talks with the port authority for months over concerns that long wait times at the port were costing drivers money. Most truckers are paid by the load and do not make money while sitting in line.

Port Metro Vancouver has said it is working on new infrastructure and practices to improve wait times at its facilities, and blamed some of the backlog on extreme weather.

On Friday, the port moved to legally block protesting truckers from disrupting operations, after complaints of threats and intimidation, including an incident of possible vandalism caught on security cameras. (Reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)