(Updates throughout, adds comments from province, union, adds byline)
By Julie Gordon
VANCOUVER, March 26 (Reuters) - Negotiators on Wednesday reached a deal to end the month-long container truck strike that has crippled operations at Canada’s largest port and slowed the transport of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods.
The new deal, brokered by the province, means that the more than 1,000 striking drivers will return to work at Port Metro Vancouver on Thursday morning.
“This agreement means the port is open again for business starting tomorrow morning,” said British Columbia premier Christy Clark at a press conference in Victoria, the provincial capital.
The deal came after provincial politicians spent a third day debating back-to-work legislation, which would have forced the drivers to return to their rigs. That legislation has now been withdrawn by the province.
“We have been clear from the very beginning that negotiation is the only way to achieve labor peace,” said Jerry Dias, national president for Unifor, which represents the union drivers. “We were not going to have a plan imposed on us.”
The new deal, based on a previous plan put forward by government and the port, was signed by Premier Clark, along with representatives of both the union and non-union drivers.
“This is an agreement that working truckers can be satisfied with,” said Paul Johal, president of the Unifor local, in a statement.
More than 1,000 non-union drivers walked off the job on Feb. 26 in protest over pay and services at Port Metro Vancouver. Their unionized colleagues voted to join the strike days later and have been on the picket line since Mar. 10.
The core issue in the month-long job action was long wait times at the city’s port facilities, which drivers say cut into their profits. They are paid by the haul and do not make money while waiting in line to load or unload cargo.
The drivers were also demanding higher rates and better regulation to stop rampant undercutting in the industry.
The strike paralyzed Port Metro Vancouver’s four container terminals, slowing the export of commodities like lumber, pulp products and specialty grains, and the import of consumer goods and construction materials.
The provincial and federal governments, along with the port, set out a 14-point action plan to end the strike in mid-March, but the proposal was rejected by the drivers. The revised plan was reached by all parties on Wednesday after a day of intense negotiations.
A provincially appointed mediator will now meet with the drivers and other participants to work through outstanding issues and start implementing reforms aimed at improving pay, wait times and creating more oversight in the industry. (Editing by Eric Walsh)