Container trucker strike hurting special crops

The one bright light in grain transportation has been dimmed.

A container trucker strike at Port Metro Vancouver is wreaking havoc with pulse and special crops exports.

“It definitely causes a huge disruption of our Vancouver shipments,” said Darren Lemieux, head trader with Simpson Seeds Inc.

About 1,000 non-unionized container truckers went on strike on Feb. 26. Another 400 unionized workers joined them March 6. There was no resolution in sight as of The Western Producer’s deadline.

Half of the containers that arrive and depart the port are moved by truck, while the remainder moves by rail.

The portion moving by truck has been severely disrupted by the strike. For instance, the volume of container truck movement was 27 percent of normal March 14.

“All the transloading facilities that we use are very reliant on those truckers,” said Lemieux.

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Simpson Seeds is paying detention and demurrage fees on hopper cars full of product sitting at the port that can’t be stuffed into containers, which is how all of the company’s crops move to market.

He said the company will be a month late getting product to some markets, even if the strike is resolved soon, which will result in contractual penalties.

Simpson Seeds had good success moving product by container in the post-harvest period because the company avoided all the western rail congestion by using the Port of Montreal to service markets in the Mediterranean, northern Europe and North Africa.

However, the markets it is selling to today are in the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent and South Africa, which are serviced through Vancouver.

Truckers are upset about the long wait times at the terminals. They claim it can take up to five hours to get loaded with a container.

“Truckers are sitting in line on their own dime not making a buck at all,” said Manny Dhillon, office manager for the United Truckers Association of British Columbia, which represents the non-unionized truckers.

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The port has no direct control over wage agreements or contract rates. Those terms are negotiated between truckers and the trucking companies.

However, Dhillon said the port is responsible for the overall operational efficiency of the facility, so it has a direct impact on wait times.

“Obviously they can’t fix the line-ups tomorrow. That’s understandable. Until it is fixed, what we want is some sort of compensation,” he said.

The port did not respond to requests for an interview in time to meet publication deadlines March 17.

In an FAQ document it prepared on the strike, the port said 63 percent of trucks wait less than one hour at the port and only about five percent wait longer than two hours.

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