700 ground workers walk off the job at Pearson Airport

Jul 28 2017, 12:02 pm

Airline passengers should expect significant delays today as well as flight cancellations and lost luggage.

Over 700 workers employed by Swissport at Pearson Airport walked off the job on Thursday night in a labour dispute resulting from what Teamsters Canada describes in a press release as “The company’s uncompromising attitude and disrespect for workers…”

“We tried our best to reach an acceptable agreement with the company. Swissport just wasn’t interested,” explained Harjinder Badial, vice-president of Teamsters Local Union 419. “We spent weeks trying to avoid getting to this point. Sadly, the company is insisting on forcing a bad deal on workers.”

According to the press release, Swissport is trying to impose a 3-year wage freeze and wants staff to work a minimum of 30 hours a week to qualify for full benefits as the employer also seeks great flexibility in scheduling which would allow schedules changes with 96 hours advance notice.

The press release accuses Swissport of hiring scabs as the bargaining team worked to ratify a new collective agreement. In advance of the strike, “Swissport has brought on hundreds of untrained, inexperienced temporary agency workers.”

While the company has explained the agency workers as a way to handle the summer travel rush, the union is calling out the new hires as strikebreakers after Swissport VP of Operations, Pierre Payette, told the union’s bargaining team “that ‘the temps would be gone’ as soon as a new collective agreement was ratified by members.”

To safely work in sensitive areas of the airport, baggage handlers normally require 3 to 4 weeks of training, according to Teamsters. Recent temp workers only received 3 to 4 days of training. They say it’s unclear how hundreds of agency workers were able to pass airport staff background checks so quickly, when it normally take 3 to 6 months.

“We’re shocked at how Swissport is willing to sacrifice airport safety and jeopardize travel plans to gain an upper hand at the barraging table,” said Badial. “We have no idea how Pearson will be able to operate safely and normally with this crew.”

The previous collective agreement expired on July 23, 2017.

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