Wings Magazine

Air Canada Wild Cat strike over

March 23, 2012, Toronto - A wildcat strike by Air Canada ground staff, prompted by the fallout from workers heckling the federal labour minister, ended Friday morning with assurances the workers would not be punished, a union official said.

March 23, 2012  By The Canadian Press

Three workers at Toronto's Pearson International Airport were suspended after Labour Minister Lisa Raitt was heckled while walking through the airport late Thursday, said union spokesman Bill Trbovich.

When word of the suspensions spread their colleagues staged an illegal walkout, prompting the firing of 37 workers, he added.

At least two dozens flights were cancelled and some 50 delayed.

Trbovich said the union didn't sanction or condone the strike, which spread to airports in Quebec City, Montreal and Vancouver.


"We told them that if you go on strike it's illegal and you could lose your job if you continue to do this,'' Trbovich said.

"Well Air Canada fired 37 people as a result.''

However, the workers began returning to work after an arbitrator ruled Friday morning there would be no reprisals against them if they returned to their jobs, Trbovich said.

"We regret that it happened,'' he said. "But at least everybody got their jobs back, cooler heads have prevailed, and now it's back to work.''

Despite the union saying the strike was over, several dozen workers remained outside Pearson's Terminal One chanting "shame on Lisa Raitt,'' although it was a smaller group than before.

Trbovich said feelings have been running high after the government took away their right to strike, but added the suspensions and protest walkout started after Raitt "took a very dim view'' of the heckling that included some "sarcastic remarks.''

Dozens of flights were cancelled or delayed as a result of the action, which Raitt called illegal as she warned that law enforcement had been notified.

The workers say they're angry that Raitt brought in back-to-work legislation and sent their contract dispute with the airline to arbitration.

The walkout left 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.

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, expressed regret about his choice of airline.

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

The carrier issued a statement apologizing to its affected passengers and urging those with travel plans to check the status of their flights online. Passengers whose flights have been cancelled will be permitted to rebook without penalty.

Other passengers at Pearson expressed fears about what the delays would 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,'' he said. "We're getting mixed messages from Air Canada and we don't even know where our luggage is or what to do next.''

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.


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