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Air Canada ground crews stage wildcat strike

March 23, 2012, Toronto - Air Canada cancelled more than two dozen flights to Canadian and U.S. destinations early Friday as a wildcat strike by its ground workers threatened to create travel chaos at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.


March 23, 2012
By The Canadian Press

At least 50 Air Canada flights and some from other airlines were also delayed after ground workers walked off the job Thursday evening and left hundreds of passengers in limbo.

Many people had to leave flights already on the tarmac until management was able take over some baggage handling duties and allow the delayed flights to continue to their destination.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline's lawyers are discussing how to bring an end to the strike.

But the walkout showed no sign of abating early today, with dozens of ground workers gathered outside the arrivals deck of Terminal One.

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Many cheered as colleagues arriving for the day shift chose to join the protest, while a union was jeered when he told the employees the strike was illegal and they should return to work.

Soon after the job action began late Thursday, many passengers said they had no idea where their luggage was, or how they were going to get to their destinations. One passenger described the situation at the airport as "a zoo.''

Another passenger, Aaron Huizing, was heading back to his home in Ottawa from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic when the walkout began.

Huizing, who was travelling with a group of 30 people, said he never should have booked a vacation with the airline.

"I say the same thing every time. 'I'm never going to deal with Air Canada again.' Maybe next time I'll listen to myself,'' he said.

Other passengers were worried about what the job action will mean for their families.

"We've got people taking care of our kids back home who have to go to work in the morning,'' said Ryan Tuck, who was also on a connecting flight from Los Angeles bound for Ottawa.

"I'm not too happy,'' added Tuck. "We're getting mixed messages from Air Canada and we don't even know where our luggage is or what to do next.''

There was no immediate sign that federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt would intervene in the dispute.

A spokesperson Raitt's office told The Canadian Press in an email that ''these issues fall with Air Canada internally.''

Should Air Canada feel the job action constitutes an illegal strike, the spokesperson said, ''they can bring this matter to the Canadian industrial Resolution Board.''

Earlier Thursday, angry Air Canada workers rallied in front of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's constituency office in Calgary to send him what they called a symbolic message.

Air Canada has been plagued with labour troubles over the last year.

The airline and its pilots and mechanics have been in a bitter contract feud that prompted the federal government to recently step in with legislation banning strikes or lockouts at the airline.

Raitt had insisted the government had to act to protect the national economy.

Ottawa also had to intervene in contract disputes involving the airline's flight attendants and its customer service agents.