Non-union Canadian drivers act as one; strike called unprecedented success

| 9/25/2003

Canadian drivers and owner-operators went back to work Sept. 16 after deeming their united efforts to address working conditions at Canadian National Railway's shipping container depot in Brampton, Ontario, a success.

According to the Toronto Star, a logjam of more than 3,000 shipping containers is clearing out now that the two-week-long trucker strike is settled.

The truckers, angry about long, unpaid wait times at the terminal, had refused to pick up or drop freight for 16 days.

The action was spearheaded by a fledgling organization called the Container Carrier Owner Operator Association of Ontario. Howard James, founder and CEO of the CCOOAO, and its president, Nasir Yusef, are both working owner-operators. An estimated 300 drivers and owner-operators participated in the strike.

By the end of the first week, press reports estimated $300 million worth of imported goods piling up at the CN's Brampton, Ontario, depot. News reports quoted George Kuhn, executive director of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA), as saying, "How many people depend on Christmas season to make a profit? This is a big thing."

On Sept. 15, CN, freight carriers, CIFFA and representatives from steamship lines met with the CCOOAO officials. By the next day, all sides came to an agreement. Armed with a written agreement from CN dealing with working conditions plus a written agreement from 19 carriers dealing with pay, James and Yusef called the truckers back to work the following day.

The truckers, who get paid by the number of shipments, say significant headway was made on 14 points. Topping the list was an increase in pay ($30 an hour after the first hour) and a new system allowing truckers to make appointments for pickups, cutting five or six hour waits to less than an hour.

"The CCOOAO felt they had exhausted all avenues. After endless effort to find a solution, the inevitable happened, a walkout," says Truckers' Voice consultant/lobbyist Peter Turner, who became part of the effort in the second week. "After the first week of the shutdown, there was no movement from any of the parties."

Turner says the CCOOAO, in its first year, has grown to more than 275 members, consisting of many different ethnic backgrounds.

Turner says this was the first time in Canadian history that drivers and owner-operators took a stand with no property damage, no personal injury.

"There was no rolling blockade," he said, "just lots of waving and smiles. The truckers’ issues were realistic, and their solutions made good business sense for all parties."

--by Sandi Soendker, managing editor

Sandi Soendker can be reached at