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Truckers to province: 'We will not be swayed'

Truckers on strike rallied today in downtown Vancouver to protest the provincial government's plans to legislate unionized truckers from Port Metro Vancouver back to work.

As U.S. singer Tom Morello's "Union Town" blasted from the speakers, banners, cardboard signs and union flags climbed towards the sky in unified protest.

"This is a union town, a union town. Hold down the line," sings Morello. "If you come to strip our rights away we'll give you hell every time!"

The message from the union leaders today was not that of giving anyone hell, though. It was an appeal to the government of being reasonable and invite truckers to the negotiations.

"We will not be bullied, we will not be swayed," said Gavin McGarrigle, area director of Unifor B.C. "The only way of getting a sustainable solution is to negotiate."

Last week the provincial government, the federal government, and port authority presented a 14-point plan in an attempt to end the strike that government says is costing up to $125 million a day.

The deal was rejected by the truckers who demand pay raises, an end to long unpaid waits at port terminals, and standardized rates across the trucking sector to prevent undercutting.

"They never called us, they never invited us to the table -- they just put it out via press release," said McGarrigle.

On Wednesday, the provincial government, the federal government and Port Metro Vancouver issued a joint statement in which the province said it was prepared to legislate the unionized truckers back to work as early as March 24.

Trucker unions were quick to nix that threat; a message repeated at today's rally.

"They can legislate all you want, but that's not going to solve the problem," said Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, who flew in from Toronto to support the striking union members in B.C. "The only way forward is to get everyone in the same room to negotiate a long-term plan."

The current strike is the third conflict in 15 years between truckers and Port Metro Vancouver over minimum wages and undercutting. It started in February when non-unionized container truckers withdrew their services and escalated further as unionized drivers joined the strike in March.

The Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers' Association (VCTA), which represents most of the unionized truckers at Port Metro Vancouver, is the target of the legislation (only union can be legislated back to work); however the port authority said it would push ahead with plans to terminate the licenses of all truckers striking at the port -- even those who aren't part of a union.

The strike has affected major retailers across the country that have been forced to ship good through other ports. Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said the strike has had a "severe effect on our economy."

McGarrigle said government has brought it on themselves; truckers have tried to do everything by the book but the government refuses to listen.

"We're here today for one simple demand, justice. Justice for container truckers and justice for all workers," he said.

Kristian Secher is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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