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British Columbia truckers upset over reduced rates on Port Mann Bridge expansion

Richard Gilbert

Some truckers and the leader of the B.C. Teamsters Union are upset that construction companies building the new Port Mann Bridge are reducing rates.

Some truckers and the leader of the B.C. Teamsters Union are upset that construction companies building the new Port Mann Bridge are reducing rates.

More than 200 union and non-union owner-operators of gravel trucks met recently to discuss the gravel haulage rate on the Port Mann Bridge expansion project.

The large crowd was angry because Peter Kiewit Sons reduced the gravel haulage rate to $65 an hour.

The rate for a tandem gravel truck in the B.C. Government’s Blue Book is $93.45 an hour.

The bridge contractors “are putting 200 trucks out there that are working and have no agreement,” said Don McGill, president of the B.C. Teamsters Union.

“The companies are taking $20,000 to $30,00 a night, right out of the local economy and our stimulus money is going to the United States.”

However, the open shop association representing some of the gravel truck owner-operators disagreed.

“McGill is worried about the few union truckers, who are left and are not getting any work because they are not competitive,” said Philip Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Business Association.

McGill argued that Kiewit is taking advantage of the situation by forcing truckers to work for substandard rates.

He said this unfair business practice is made possible by the global economic crisis.

“Work was drying up because a lot of projects had been cancelled or delayed for financial reasons,” he said.

“There is construction equipment of all types sitting idle and all sorts of people fighting to make mortgage and truck payments, and put food on the table. Kiewit and Flatiron are taking advantage of the situation, by forcing rates down.”

Hochstein said the negotiation of rates on any project is handled between the parties involved.

“Whether it is Kiewit or whoever it is, the arrangements made by the owner-operators are business to business,” he said.

“If these arrangements were unsustainable for either side they wouldn’t do it.”

McGill said the rate cuts are exacerbating the problem of unsafe trucks on the province’s streets and highways.

“This puts the public at risk from trucks with poor brakes or other mechanical flaws, which put the lives of everyone in peril,” he said.

“If truckers are forced to choose between keeping their truck in safe working order or putting food on the table for their families, this is not a healthy situation.”

According to McGill, Kiewit is making windfall profits on the project, as a result of falling construction costs.

“Since the contract was awarded, construction costs have gone down by a minimum of 10 per cent,” he said.

“This is a $240 million saving that Kiewit is taking as windfall profits. Kiewit is taking taxpayers’ dollars and putting them in their pocket, without having to work for it.”

In February 2009, Nebraska-based Peter Kiewit Sons Co. and Flatiron Constructors Canada Limited were awarded a $2.465 billion contract by the B.C. government to design and build the new, 10-lane Port Mann Bridge, as well as widen the Highway 1 corridor.

The contract was fixed-price and based on prevailing supply costs at that time.

“If Don McGill was such an expert in business, he would not have lost all his market share,” said Hochstein.

“McGill should stick to being a union boss and leave running business to business people. He has no concept of the risks involved in running a project of this size, scale and scope.”

In June of 2004 B.C.’s independent truckers shut down the construction industry for two weeks.

The issue at that time was haulage rates as well as gasoline surtaxes.

The truckers went back to work only after government-appointed mediators engineered an industry-wide agreement on rates.

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