BRAMPTON, Ontario — A successful two-week strike in March by some 1,000 aggregate truck drivers in the Greater Toronto area, who haul the sand and gravel needed to produce ready-mix concrete, shut down quarries and much of the construction industry. They won a 20% rate increase from trucking company bosses.
Inspired by their fight, 1,500 members of the Ontario Dump Truck Association decided to go out on strike March 21. They’re fighting for higher rates, greater safety measures, workers’ rights and respect from the bosses. The large majority are of South Asian descent.
Recognition of the truckers’ right to negotiate an agreement with the bosses has become a key issue in the fight. David Rumble, head of the Associated Earth Movers of Ontario, the main bosses’ organization, claims that the Ontario Dump Truck Association isn’t a “recognized association” and doesn’t have the right to negotiate.
“We can’t sign a contract with you,” Rumble said, rejecting a list of demands submitted by the association. The bosses, he said, propose instead to “work with you for the betterment of the industry,” that is, better for the companies.
“We are a recognized, established and respected association with authority to represent our members,” ODTA representative Bob Punia countered, saying, “Our trucks aren’t moving until we have” a collective agreement that includes truckers’ “basic rights.”
“Without a union or an association we have nothing,” Inder Singh, who has been a trucker for 40 years and is an Ontario Dump Truck Association committee member, told the Militant. “We need a union to fight for our rights.”
He said that the dump truck drivers are fighting for an increase in rates, as well as a standard rate for all truckers. Rates now vary enormously, Some truckers can be paid as low as 65 Canadian dollars an hour ($51).
“We’re asking for a $130 base rate,” that’s what’s needed to cover rapidly rising expenses for fuel, parts, insurance and fees, Singh said. “Everything is inflated except our rates. It’s impossible to make a living.”
In addition, he said, “There are no minimum hours paid. Sometimes they send you home and you get paid nothing!”
Many companies don’t pay on time, said Jasvir Dhaliwal, a 22-year trucker and owner-operator, who’s also a committee member. “We’re demanding to be paid within 45 days. Sometimes they don’t pay us for six months or longer. If a company runs away, we’re done. We don’t get paid anything.”
Overloading of dump trucks by construction companies is another major issue. Truckers can be fined CA$500 or CA$1,000 if they’re carrying more than the maximum allowable load. Even though it’s the company that loads the trucks, the drivers are held responsible.
“It’s not safe to drive an overloaded truck,” Dhaliwal said. “Sometimes they don’t make proper ramps on an excavation site.” Trucks are particularly unstable if they’re overloaded and some have tipped over.
‘Truckers need to unite’
“This fight is a turning point,” said owner-operator Inder Singh. “The companies’ strategy is divide and conquer. They press truckers to work harder and faster.” They play truckers off against each other to keep rates low and “give the work to those who work the fastest.”
“We demand respect,” he insisted. “We’re verbally abused, and immigrants are badly treated” and face racist treatment from construction bosses.
At the meeting where dump truck workers decided to strike, Punia explained that the truckers are fighting for higher pay to keep their vehicles roadworthy and safe, as well as over the lack of access to washrooms and no scheduled breaks either for rest or for meals.
The next week, members of the Ontario Aggregate Trucking Association, Ontario Dump Truck Association and the AZ Canadian Truckers Association, which organizes both short- and long-haul drivers, met together for the first time to discuss the need for united action.
“You could see the power workers have when they unite and shut down an industry,” Mark Grieve, a Toronto construction site ready-mix concrete driver and Teamster union member, told the Militant, describing the success of the aggregate workers strike. “My co-workers were all talking about it. Their fight was inspiring. Many of us think we would all be much stronger if they were part of our union.”