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Hamilton airport workers prepare to strike

Dec. 7, 2009 – It could be a hectic Christmas travel season in Hamilton if a looming strike by city airport workers comes to pass.


December 7, 2009
By Administrator

Dec. 7, 2009 – It could be a hectic Christmas travel season in Hamilton if a looming strike by city airport workers comes to pass.

Firefighters and other staff at John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport will meet Dec. 16 and 17 with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board for a hearing that could mean a labour
disruption as early as Dec. 20.

The federal agency will either negotiate or impose an essential services agreement that would provide minimal firefighting and other coverage.

Once that agreement is finalized, either side can serve 72 hours' notice of intention to strike or lock out workers.

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The 35 workers are represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees and have been without a collective agreement for more than a year.

"Our members are not too pleased with their employer right now," said Derron Vernon, president of CUPE 5167. "They were hoping for a settlement, and we're still willing to go back to the table and try to hammer something out."

Airport operations director Frank Scremin said the company is still hoping for a negotiated settlement.

"We're open to sitting down and chatting with the union and reaching an agreement," he said. "We're working hard to get an agreement and are optimistic that we can come up with something that works for everyone."

If there is a strike, the airport has "a full contingency plan and will maintain full operations," he added.

The union includes the airport's small, but vital, four-member fire department. Regulations require firefighters to be on duty and ready to respond whenever passenger aircraft are landing, fuelling and taking off.

They're also required to be ready for a time after an airplane has left, just in case it has to come back.

Full-time firefighters are supplemented by six staff called airside operations specialists, people who cut grass and do other maintenance work during lag times.

It's a job class the union agreed to in its last contract but wants to eliminate. In addition to scheduling fixes, the union says the airport is so tightly staffed members sometimes work 40 hours at a stretch because there's no one to relieve them, they also want pay raises.

They currently make between $23 and $27 an hour and have been offered a four-year deal with pay hikes of 0, 2, 2.5 and 3 per cent. There's also an option for a fifth year with a raise of 3 per cent.