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Port truckers reach deal

Striking truckers at Canada's largest port reached a deal Wednesday to end a prolonged strike, which has left hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cargo stranded at Vancouver-area container terminals and prompted escalating pressure from the provincial and federal governments.

"This agreement means our port is open for business starting tomorrow morning," BC Premier Christy Clark said at the provincial legislature in Victoria, after a flurry of meetings between government officials and the truckers.

"We had to sit down and look at each other in the eyes and realize we weren't that far apart."

Clark and two of her cabinet ministers could be seen shaking hands with union negotiators and congratulating each other on a job well done.

The truckers had been scheduled to hold a morning news conference to respond to back-to-work legislation that was on its way to becoming law, but the event was repeatedly delayed.

Instead, officials with Unifor, which represents about 250 unionized truckers, and the United Truckers' Association of B.C., which represents more than 1,000 non-union workers, spent hours holed up with provincial government staff and cabinet ministers.

"This is by far the most complicated set of negotiations I've ever been involved on," Unifor's national president, Jerry Dias, said after the agreement was announced.

"What changed today was the willingness to listen. The key thing was the desire to find resolve."

Dias thanked Clark and her cabinet ministers, and he criticized the federal government for fighting the truckers rather than negotiating. He said if it was up to Ottawa, Vancouver's port would be closed tomorrow.

The province tabled back-to-work legislation earlier this week that would have affected the unionized workers, while the port warned all striking workers that they wouldn't have expiring licences renewed if they didn't return to their jobs.

The dispute largely focused on issues related to pay, including rates, unpaid time spent at the port waiting for cargo, and allegations of undercutting within the industry.

BC, Ottawa and the port put forward a 14-point plan two weeks ago in an attempt to allay the truckers' concerns, but the workers quickly dismissed the proposal as inadequate.

BC's premier and Prime Minister Stephen Harper each warned the dispute was threatening the country's economy.

The latest negotiations focused on refining the government-backed proposal.

The union previously said it wanted a higher wage increase. It also demanded fees for wait times to kick in after only one hour, instead of two, and for those fees to increase over time.

The terms of Wednesday's agreement weren't immediately available.

Port Metro Vancouver issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, before the deal was announced, hailing the 14-point plan as the best way to end the dispute.

"There are financial wins in the plan for truckers," port CEO Robin Silvester said in the statement.

"There is also assurance that increased rates will be paid through better auditing of trucking companies. It is in all of our best interests that truckers come out of this dispute with their issues resolved because disruptions like this hurt each of us and Canada's international trade reputation deeply."

The statement also said the port was concerned about "alarming reports of physical violence, threats and vandalism involving local truckers." The union and truckers' association have previously denied any wrongdoing in response to such accusations.

The truckers don't directly work for the port. They are typically independent contractors, sub-contractors or direct employees of shipping companies.

Trucks account for about half of the traffic in and out of the port, with the other half moving by rail.

Earlier in the strike, the port said truck traffic was at about 10 per cent of normal levels, though it had increased to about 40 per cent last week.

The Canadian Press

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