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Air Canada wildcat strike affects dozens of flights

March 23, 2012, Toronto - Canada's passenger air system is in chaos this morning after a wildcat strike by Air Canada baggage handlers and ground crews at its busiest airport in Toronto, affecting more than 100 flights and thousands of passengers.


March 23, 2012
By CBC News

The Toronto walkout prompted Air Canada workers to walk off the job
temporarily Friday morning as a show of solidarity, but they began
returning to their jobs around 9 a.m. ET.

 

The wildcat strike started after the airline, which has had bitter
and continuing labour problems over the past year with its pilots,
mechanics, flight attendants and now ground crews, suspended three
workers at Pearson International Airport on Thursday evening, setting
off a chain of events.

 

The workers had apparently applauded sarcastically as Labour Minister Lisa Raitt walked through the airport on Thursday evening.

 

The employees were suspended for 72 hours. The striking workers said
Friday morning that's how long they'll keep up their protest.

 

If they do, it will mean chaos.

 

By mid-morning, more than 100 Air Canada flights had been affected at the Toronto airport, with at least 58 flights cancelled.

 

Flights to Halifax, London, Ont., Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., Tokyo and dozens of other cities have been scrapped.

 

The domino effect will also lead to other cancellations and delays
right across the country, and throw the travel plans of thousands of
Canadians into disarray as they try to make connections.

 

A spokeswoman for the airline, Isabelle Arthur, said Friday morning
that it would seek a back-to-work order. In the meantime, she said,
"We’re putting in place a flexible rebooking policy, so customers can
make changes without penalties."

 

She confirmed that the illegal job action by ramp employees was causing delays and cancellation.

The labour minister's office told CBC News in an email that it takes a dim view of the job action.

 

"Law enforcement agencies have been contacted, and will be deployed if necessary," the statement said.

 

The union and its members could also be liable for fines, it said.

 

"[E]mployees could face fines of up to $1,000 a day and the union could face fines of up to $100,000 a day."

 

The labour minister's office had said earlier that she won't intervene, calling the dispute an internal matter for the airline.

Montreal workers walk off to show solidarity

Greater
Toronto Airports Authority spokesman Scott Armstrong said the workers
walked off the job shortly after 10 p.m. ET and held a demonstration "on
the curb" at Terminal 1.

By Friday morning, more than 100 people had gathered outside Terminal One, chanting, "Fire Lisa Raitt."


In Montreal, hundreds of baggage handlers and other Air Canada
workers walked off the job Friday morning before they began returning to
work.

A passenger on her way to Fort Lauderdale from Montreal told CBC News
she was already seated on the plane Friday morning when all the
passengers were told to get off.

“As soon as everyone was seated, they asked us to disembark and said
that the ground crew was using pressure tactics and to wait at the gate
for further instructions,” said Doris Juergens.

'There's people stranded on airplanes'

At
Pearson on Thursday night, Boyd Richardson of the International
Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers told his members they
had to get back to work.

"I have to say to you legally, I am representative of the IAM," he
said. "You have to go back to work. There's people stranded on airplanes
out there."

 

The labour minister wasn't the only politician to feel the effect of the wildcat action.

Early Friday morning, federal Treasury Board president Tony Clement said his flight from Halifax had been delayed by two hours.

 

"Then we sat on the tarmac for about another hour or hour and a half.
Now I don't have my bag," he said. "I think anybody who uses illegal
job action to make their point is actually hurting their own cause. It's
a huge inconvenience for the travelling public…. You can't illegally
take your frustrations out on management and inconvenience the
travelling public."

With the NDP leadership convention beginning on Friday, many people from across Canada were scheduled to arrive in Toronto.

 

In Ottawa, delays and cancellations were reported. Seven flights had been affected as of 7 a.m.

Newfoundland and Labrador MHA Gerry Rogers said her flight from St.
John's sat on the tarmac at Pearson for an hour before she could get off
the plane, and she had yet to collect her luggage.

 

"We can't continue to have government interfering in these ways and
breaking the backs of unions. This is about workers' rights, and I
totally support this. If I have to wait in this airport for 10 hours for
my luggage, so be it."

 

Ilana Walters, 19, flew to Pearson from Montreal and said after the
plane touched down passengers had to wait on the tarmac for an hour
before they could enter the terminal. It took another two hours to
collect her bags, she said.

 

Walters said the plane's captain made an announcement while passengers were waiting on the tarmac.

 

"We were on the plane, and then the pilot said, 'We're sorry to tell you the ground crew has gone on strike.'"

Airline plagued with troubles

Robert Tudor, an Air Canada retiree and a resident of Waterloo, Ont., spoke with CBC News at Pearson.

 

"It's very sad to see the decline," he said. "When I was a kid,
they'd give you little plastic airplanes and lifesavers and all kinds of
goodies just for the excitement of flying. Now it's just a very sad
business, and frustrating for everyone."

 

"Everyone just wants cheap, cheap, cheap. They don't realize the
investment in buildings, the investment in people, the investment in
airplanes, maintaining the airplanes — it's expensive," he said. "The
only place they can get a nickel or a dime is out of the workers'
pockets."

 

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.

 

The government also used back-to-work legislation during Air Canada's
contract dispute with customer service and sales staff last June.


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