It seemed a normal Friday afternoon at the Ambassador Bridge truck plaza Aug. 6, despite the first day of job action by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) staff.
Trucks routinely stopped and then rolled through Customs booths and headed up Huron Church Rd., east to Hwy. 401, some honking their horns either in apparent support or anger at the strikers.
No picket lines were evident as the frontline Customs officers are deemed essential and not allowed to walk off the job. Some workers wore a white button saying: ‘Respect.’
But it was a different story on the other side of the booths.
As the day progressed truck lineups and wait times increased substantially across the bridge and onto Detroit interstates.
By mid-afternoon there were reports of truck wait times as long as five hours with vehicles backed up as far as 10 miles along Interstate 75.
Truckers who had cleared the border, taking a break at the Esso Travel Centre just outside Windsor, spoke of unexpected lengthy crossings.
“I arrived in line at 10:48 a.m. and I just got through [at 3 p.m.],” a U.S. trucker, who wished not to identified, said.
“I didn’t know this was happening,” the driver, who usually crosses two or three times a week, said. But she was overnighting here before making her delivery, so remained on schedule.
But the driver sympathized with the striking officers.
“I always support unions,” she said. “They’ve gotten us a lot of things in the past – maternity leave, equal pay for equal work.” She’ll keep doing the run during the dispute: “We’ve still got to work.”
Mohammed Ahmed of Brampton, Ont.-based KJS Transport, was also taken by surprise, aware of a pending strike but not that it was starting as soon as Friday.
“It was really bad, I’ve never seen it like I saw it today,” Ahmed, hauling auto parts from Louisiana, said.
He estimated the lineup at five miles long.
Ahmed said Customs belabored questions at the booth. [The union had indicated it would work to rule to the “letter of the law.”]
“I was standing at the booth 10-15 minutes.” Normally it takes two to three minutes.
Another trucker, a Tilbury, Ont.-based solid waste hauler returning from Michigan, said he won’t be heading back soon as his firm will cease cross-border operations for the time being.
He had to wait five hours.
“Just dead stopped not moving,” he said. “It was just backed up, everyone trying to merge at the bridge, it’s crazy.”
But his time at the Customs booth was normal. “I got lucky, I got in just after the [Customs] shift change.”
Chandrakant Patel of Brampton’s Hunter Express, was heading the opposite way to Laredo, Texas. But strike or no strike, he said the Canadian border is “always a problem.”
For example, Patel said, when officers change shifts they shut all booths rather than stagger them, and they can remain closed as long as 10 minutes. And on some nights and weekends only “three or four” booths are open leading to backups to I-75.
Meanwhile, corporate representatives were monitoring the situation.
Umair Khan, general manager of Windsor’s Morrice Transportation, which hauls general freight, said the dispute is “definitely going to cause some issues” for just-in-time deliveries.
Khan said there was a “bottleneck situation” even before the 8 a.m. strike start as companies were recalling their drivers earlier.
LouAnn Gosselin of Stellantis Canada [formerly Fiat Chrysler], which depends heavily on just-in-time deliveries for its Windsor and Brampton assembly plants, said thus far “there has been no impact on production.”