May 4, 2021 - No. 40

Workers in Transportation Sector Speak Out 

Organizing to Get Results Which Favour Workers' Interests and Those of Society

• Truckers Persist in Building Organizations Needed to Defend Their
- Normand Chouinard

Keeping Workers and Society Safe and Defending Workers'
- Rob Ashton  

Workers in Transportation Sector Speak Out

Truckers Persist in Building Organizations
Needed to Defend Their Rights

Normand Chouinard is a trucker in the retail trade sector.

When we talk about trucking in Canada and the life of truckers, we are speaking about trucking within Canada as well as cross border trucking. What stands out most about the working life of truckers since the beginning of the pandemic is their organizing to give themselves a collective voice. Their insistence that their safety be guaranteed as the condition for the supply chain to be provided with a guarantee has been relentless. They immediately demanded that basic sanitary standards be maintained everywhere and that the necessary arrangements to carry out their work safely be established all along the highways, both at private service points and public rest areas. They have even issued requests to their respective companies to ensure that suppliers, shippers and customers respect the sanitary measures put in place by Public Health authorities.

When the first shutdowns occurred in April/May 2020, there was enormous pressure on the transport workers to move goods at all costs, without measures being taken to protect them. The resistance of the truckers meant that changes were relatively quick and accommodations were made and health measures were taken. Amongst other things, over the past year, the trucking community has worked hard to build advocacy organizations. This was particularly the case in the United States where actions took place everywhere and truckers made themselves heard during rallies in front of various state capitols, and organized an action in front of the White House that lasted nearly 20 days. During these 20 days, the truckers organized themselves to guarantee their needs in food and sanitary measures and they held street discussions and several other activities. The situation is similar in Quebec and Canada. Truckers are stepping up their work to create the organizations that they need to ensure their safety, despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic.

Despite governments adopting some safety measures for truckers, the reality has been that truckers' work rates have been increased to meet the demands for consumer goods that has fluctuated wildly. There is no stability in the pace of their work. On the contrary, the pressure to meet whatever delivery schedules the companies dictate has been greater than ever before. Truckers cannot get proper rest. Now, in the United States, in the name of Bidden's humanitarian causes, all normal regulations which apply to allowable loads and hours of work can be set aside. The situation in both countries has created very dangerous working conditions which have led to several work and road accidents.

U.S. truckers gathered in front of White House May 1, 2020 for an action lasting nearly 20 days

For these reasons, this year's Day of Mourning in Canada had a special character. Truckers commemorated their fallen, their injured, and all those who, during this last very difficult year of pandemic times, have upheld their responsibilities to ensure the constant supply of goods for their communities while fighting relentlessly for their own safety. Among other events, these commemorations included an online event organized by the non-profit organization Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Truckers which hosted a virtual session on May 1. Labour organizations, both national and local, also held Day of Mourning events.

The Day of Mourning and May Day this year were opportunities to reaffirm the main demands of the truckers' movement, which are the uncompromising improvement of their working conditions through the direct participation of transportation workers in the modernization of the Canada Transportation Act and the improvement of all conditions throughout the transportation industry. This includes the right to have a say in the establishment and enforcement of regulations, but, more importantly, the inherent right to define the direction of laws and regulations that affect them, including ensuring their own safety.

(Photos: WF, FTQ, C. Lee)

Haut de page

Keeping Workers and Society Safe and
Defending Workers' Rights

BC longshore workers stand in solidarity with striking Montreal Dock workers, April 27, 2021.

Rob Ashton is the President of The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada

We've been fairly successful in keeping COVID-19 off the waterfront. In the longshore industry we've been able to, from March to March, keep it to about 140 positive or presumptive cases out of 7,000 people. We have really good protocols in place on the waterfront that we've developed over the last year, most developed jointly, some by the union locals. Each local has their own protocols with the employers. If we do have a bit of an uptick, if someone tests positive, it gets squashed quickly because of the policies we have in place. We changed the way we do dispatch in a couple of the locals until the pandemic is over because we can't all come into one place for dispatch now so some locals went to an automated or phone dispatch. Everybody does the check-in at the start of the shift. There are cleaning crews at most sites, almost every shift, depending on the terminal.

Now with the vaccines, the provincial government is vaccinating in different workplaces, and they have forgotten about our people who work on the docks, bring the ships in, dispatch the ships' pilots, work in the grain terminals, everybody that's associated with the transportation industry. When we are in bargaining and there could be a strike or lockout, the government gets upset that there will be a half a billion dollar loss every day and its "oh my god, the shutdown, we can't let them do it," but when it comes to vaccinations and the possibility of shutdowns due to COVID-19 they have forgotten us. In the longshore industry if 15 people who do key jobs in the industry go down with COVID-19 an entire terminal could be shut down. We drafted a few letters and co-authored a few letters with the Port of Vancouver and our employers, so far with no response from government. This is causing a lot of stress to our people. Every day you're living with a ticking time bomb. Everybody in our industry knows the ramifications of an outbreak, something those in power that administer the vaccines, don't understand. Every worker who wants the vaccine should get it, grocery store workers, emergency services people, health care workers, and all the people who keep the economy going, in the transportation industry, bus drivers, taxi drivers.

About the situation in Montreal: what the workers there are fighting for is a better work/life balance. Right now a longshore worker in Montreal is forced to work 17 to 19 days in a row without the right to take any time off. Imagine what this does to a family. Workers don't see their families for days on end and can't go to medical appointments. If they don't work they can be disciplined. What the employer is saying is that they have no right to complain because they are making good money. That's fine and dandy but they want a life too. They're fighting for what unions have fought for forever -- eight hours of work, eight hours of play and eight hours of rest. They started picketing on the weekends because the employers kept messing with their schedules and disciplining workers. If the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) had just agreed to negotiate last year none of this would have happened. They have to defend themselves and the only way to do that in contract talks is to withdraw their labour, which is a protected Charter right. Now the employer doesn't have to do anything, can just sit back while the government steps in and imposes a contract. The first year they were in bargaining they were at the federal labour board, the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) because the employer was saying that they didn't have a right to strike because they were essential to keeping everything going, and the board ruled that they are not essential, the employer was wrong. That took a year. And there was no bargaining in that time so now we have this happening where the employer is still not bargaining, they're actually stoking the flames by adjusting work rules which is forcing the union to react. Now the government for all intents and purposes are neutering the union with this legislation. There are very close ties between the Liberal government and the MEA.

The employer's lawyer in that CIRB hearing was Nicola di Iorio, former Liberal MP for Saint-Léonard--Saint-Michel in Quebec from October 2015 to January 2019. He was working as an advisor to the MEA in 2018 when they were trying to deny the workers' right to strike.

The MEA is doing the same thing as some BC hotels, taking advantage of the pandemic situation to mistreat the workers. They are definitely taking advantage of the situation and so is the Canadian government. Right now the federal government is by trying to bring in new security regulations. The government recently told us they are possibly looking to change the regulations that they have on security background checks that they put some of our workers through, the ones who work with cruise ships and certain jobs in container terminals. Now they want every worker that works in marine cargo handling facilities to have extensive background checks done and we are asking them why. There is no evidence that we've been made aware of that longshore workers are a security risk. They are treating us like criminals. At a recent meeting I asked the government "Are you doing this at this time because we allegedly can't hit the streets because of the pandemic? Are you trying to steal our voice from us? You haven't done this in the last 20 years and you picked this year to do it? It's awfully convenient that we can't hit the streets and shut down cities or fly across the country to talk to MPs." They just shrugged their shoulders. This is another battle we have to fight.

ILWU marks Day of Mourning in Vancouver, April 28, 2021. ILWU pointed out on this occasion that now more than ever before, the voice of workers must be listened to and acted upon to ensure safety at work.

(Photos: ILWU, J. Woods)

Haut de page

(To access articles individually click on the black headline.)



Website:   Email: