Truckers are back to work temporarily in Vancouver after a six-week long strike at the city's port stalled delivery of tire containers and other goods shipped to British Columbia.
On June 27 approximately 1,000 independent owner-operators stopped hauling from the port in protest over wages that they said do not keep up with soaring fuel costs. A federal mediator was brought in by the national government to help settle the dispute between the drivers and the shipping brokers for which they work. During the week of Aug. 1, truckers and some trucking companies accepted the terms of a temporary deal that raises hauling rates by up to 50 percent.
The strike's impact has been limited to containers trucked locally in the province and has not affected those shipped by rail to other parts of Canada, according to Ian Watson, national sales manager for Toyo Canada Inc. The tire maker moved product from eastern Canada to Vancouver to accommodate dealers, he said, adding that Toyo normally would not have shipped that way if there was no strike.
``Our containers sat in Vancouver,'' Mr. Watson said. ``Anything that was put on the port and had to be delivered locally sat there. Anything else that was picked up by rail, we shipped out by rail or anything that was transferred to different ports like Seattle or Tacoma.''
While he couldn't put a dollar figure on how much the port stoppage is costing Toyo, he said it could have impacted Toyo dealers who book directly by container from Japan. With some trucks moving now, some of Toyo's customers in the lower mainland of British Columbia have started to receive containers out of the port, Mr. Watson said.
The tire maker certainly has heard complaints from dealers, he acknowledged, but they weren't surprised by it.
``Labor disputes are not totally foreign to British Columbia, so people understand that this sort of thing happens from time to time,'' Mr. Watson said. ``They accept it as part of doing business in British Columbia.''
Any trucking company that agreed to the mediator's deal to raise hauler rates must receive a license good for 90 days to haul containers out of the port. The parties still must come to a permanent deal after the 90-day period. According to local news reports, the port strike has cost the Canadian economy an estimated $400 million (Canadian).
Don Blythe, executive director of the Western Canada Tire Dealers (WCTD), noted that any increases in hauling costs will be passed on to tire dealers and any business receiving containers. He said a deal for increased hauling rates fell apart as many companies rejected it until the mediator limited the rates to 90 days.
``I think the big argument was it wasn't what a mediator came up with for this year, it's how much he wanted to increase it next year, and they said, `No, that's way too much, and we won't agree to it,''' Mr. Blythe explained. ``That's why it fell apart, and they got it partially put together for this 90-day, cooling-off period.''
Despite the trucking stoppage, local dealerships such as O.K. Tire Stores Inc., Kal Tire, Remington Tire and Fountain Tire Corp. did not report tire shortages probably because they all redirected shipping to warehouses in neighboring Alberta, Mr. Blythe said.
Greg Kwasnicki, director of purchasing and logistics at O.K. Tire, said the Langley, British Columbia-based dealership didn't take too bad of a hit from the strike because summer is not a crucial selling season. He said winter tire shipments are not due for another month yet.
``It's not like the fall/winter season when it would be crucial,'' Mr. Kwasnicki said. ``Usually that's when container backlogs occur or somebody else goes on strike (like) the longshoremen. (It's) something every year with this port. People are starting to lose confidence in the Vancouver port.''
O.K. Tire receives imports from China through Asia Pacific Products Ltd., as well as Toyo and Kumho Tire Co. Inc. Mr. Kwasnicki said his suppliers have had to pay storage costs of $100 (U.S.) per day for the containers stuck at the Vancouver port, ``which isn't very fair.'' Some of the dealership's suppliers have discussed bringing the containers in through Tacoma, Wash., he said, adding that the extra storage charges in Vancouver probably will be passed down to O.K. Tire in the long run.
The port work stoppage also has seen some violence and truck vandalism, Mr. Kwasnicki said, as a few truckers who continued hauling during the six-week impasse found their trucks wrecked or rocks thrown at their homes.
``We had one instance where Asia Pacific got two of our containers cleared, and our company agreed to go pick them up,'' he said. ``We noticed a van followed the containers to our warehouse. So we took the license plate number and reported it to the police that were at the point, and they kept an eye on him.''
O.K. Tire also hired extra security for its warehouse, he said.