For the past four weeks, dump truck operators in Ontario have been off the job in protest. About 1,500 members of the Ontario Dump Truck Association (ODTA), a provincial non-profit trades association, have set up picket lines and demonstrations throughout Mississauga and the Greater Toronto Area. Their demands include higher rates and improvements to working conditions.
This comes just a few weeks after the so-called “Freedom Convoy” to Ottawa, but none of the trucking convoy’s leaders have come out in support. Why is that? In reality, although the convoy claimed to represent working class truckers, it was actually organized by industry owners and bosses. Now that a real working class trucker movement has popped up, the convoy’s right-wing leadership is nowhere to be seen.
The ODTA themselves have highlighted an obvious double standard. While the Ontario government took a hands-off approach to the convoy, they’ve thrown their full weight down on dump truck operators to try and prevent a movement from developing. Back in April of 2021, when the ODTA organized a protest at the Ministry of Transportation building, the provincial government quickly threatened to revoke their commercial vehicle operating registrations and tow their trucks away if they didn’t leave the premises.
But working conditions are too strained for the bosses to hold back a movement like this forever. Most drivers with the ODTA are owner-operators who need to pay for operating costs like insurance, fuel, and vehicle maintenance out of pocket. Dump truck operators are currently given a rate of $95 an hour, but with rising fuel costs, insurance premiums, and inflation, the ODTA says that drivers need closer to $130 an hour to cover all their costs and still have enough left over to survive. ODTA advisor Bob Punia has said, “The price of maintenance has gone up 40 per cent, the price of labour has gone up 25 per cent, everything has just increased. We are not asking for extra, we’re saying just give us what we need”.
Protesters have also been highlighting how dump truck drivers are regularly subjected to labour rights violations. ODTA members have said that they are often denied breaks and washroom access, and that construction bosses have been ignoring safety concerns. The association has noted that while they’re entitled to labour rights on paper, there’s little put in place to ensure that those rights are actually upheld. Operators are fighting for a contract that would better enshrine health and safety regulations. Punia has noted, “A lot of this industry likes to operate with a handshake. We want some documentation to ensure all of our concerns are addressed.”
ODTA has stated that throughout the protest, their members have been targeted by construction companies with threats and intimidation. The mood at the picket lines has been particularly tense. Disgustingly, one protester was stabbed and sent to the hospital by a scab labourer who was trying to get through the picket line! Where’s the outrage from the right-wing convoy leadership over a trucker being attacked for defending his rights? Why haven’t any pro-convoy Conservative politicians said anything about this? The hypocrisy is clear to see.
Ontario dump truck workers are showing the way forward for fighting against inflation: Withhold labour, hurt profits, and force the bosses to fork up more. Aggregate truck drivers, who walked off the job at the same time as the ODTA, have already won rate increases of 20 to 25 per cent. This is a genuinely working class movement that deserves full support.
What’s important now is for the wider Ontario labour movement to link up with the dump truckers’ movement. The Ontario Federation of Labour needs to organize solidarity actions to help ensure the dump truck operators a speedy victory. They also need to mobilize their membership and help bolster the picket lines to protect ODTA from intimidation by the bosses, and prevent another worker from being attacked by violent scab labourers.
Victory to the dump truck workers!