Professional drivers have been doing remarkable work on the continent’s roads for several decades. Their dedication and sacrifice before and during the pandemic commands respect. They are the backbone of the North American economy. Without them, our society would run out of steam. The goods you see on store shelves were most certainly transported by a professional driver and probably by a member of our great union.
Protests by drivers against the mandatory vaccine passport to cross the border are legitimate, as long as they are done in a respectful and peaceful manner. Unfortunately, some undesirable right-wing elements crept into this demonstration in the federal capital. In doing so, they damaged the reputation of honest drivers who were expressing their displeasure with a government decision. In addition, the blockade of border crossings has harmed the economy and the well-being of Canadians.
However, many people I talk to in the trucking industry find it difficult to understand how professional drivers were able to travel across North America during the first waves of the pandemic – which were far more deadly than the ones we are currently experiencing – and then suddenly they are not allowed to cross the border.
Let me be clear here: I am in favour of vaccination and it is the best way to protect ourselves collectively. But this obligation to be vaccinated is only the tree that hides the forest.
The Teamsters represent a great many workers who have been working in the supply chain for over 100 years. We know this industry in great detail and that certain transportation companies, the so-called “truckers inc.” and other « fly-by-night » as they are called in the jargon, have dragged working conditions down, which has led to a shortage of several tens of thousands of drivers in Canada alone. In addition, young people are telling us they don’t want to work in this industry and many experienced drivers are leaving as soon as they can.
And I’m not talking about the inability to balance work and family for young mothers and fathers, the musculoskeletal, heart and sleep apnea problems, the inability to retire at a decent age, the stress of finding a place to park, eat and sleep at night, and the contempt that too many customers have for truckers who are seen as less than good.
The conclusion I draw is that we need to sit down now with all industry stakeholders, address the issues in a forthright manner and resolve them once and for all. Otherwise, we may end up with a more severe labor shortage in the near future. This shortage of drivers will cripple the supply chain and do far more harm to our collective well-being than any of the protests we have seen to date.
These men and women who drive the big trucks you see on the road every day have been bravely looking out for the well-being of all of us long before the first waves of the pandemic.
Truckers have been talking to us for longer than you might think. It’s time to listen.
President of Teamsters Local Union 106