Pearson labour dispute may affect flights


TORONTO – Travellers heading to Canada’s busiest airport were warned that a strike by hundreds of ground crew workers could affect some flights on Friday, but by mid-afternoon the labour the dispute had not created any major problems.

The striking workers at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport include baggage handlers, cargo handlers, cabin cleaners, some employees who tow planes and other ground crew.

Since voting overwhelmingly Thursday night to reject a deal with their employer, Swissport, the unionized workers have been walking picket lines, hoisting signs and calling for a fair contract.

Swissport services several major airlines at the airport, including Air Transat, Sunwing Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Air France, KLM and Lufthansa.

The airport said the labour disruption could impact some flights and asked passengers to check the status of their flights.

Isaac Zonicle, a striking worker, said the labour dispute was more likely to have an effect later in the day on international flights serviced by Swissport.

“In the afternoon, you have multiple flights coming in from all over the world,” he said. “This is when you’re going to need all the knowledgeable people who know what’s going on.”

Michael Peck, a passenger flying with Sunwing, an airline serviced by Swissport, said the striking workers had not made it difficult for him to get into the airport.

“They did not interfere with us getting in. Everything was in order,” he said, adding that he had not heard of any major delays as a result of the labour dispute.

Asger Laursen, a passenger waiting for a flight to Copenhagen, also said he wasn’t too worried about the strike affecting his plans.

“They’re just protesting,” he said, noting that his airline, Icelandair, isn’t serviced by Swissport.

Alice Wolski, whose daughter was taking an Air Transat flight with six friends on Friday, said she supported the strike.

She said a worker on the picket line told her about working 12-hour shifts without breaks and being denied meetings with the company to address their concerns.

“I hope all of that goes well,” she said of her daughter’s flight. “But I think (the striking workers) finally have to take a stand and do something about this.”

Picket lines had been set up outside Pearson’s Terminal 3, as well as at a cargo terminal near Swissport’s main offices. Striking workers were allowing traffic into the cargo terminal in intervals.

Teamsters Local 419, the union representing the workers, has said Swissport is attempting to impose a three-year wage freeze on the majority of the workers, require staff to work a minimum of 30 hours a week to qualify for full benefits, and is seeking the right to change schedules with 96 hours advance notice.

Swissport said it has bargained in good faith throughout contract talks.

Shawn Lengiut, a striking ramp worker, said he’s angry at Swissport for trying to take away their benefits.

“We’re out there in the rain, sleet, and snow, working hard so these passengers can get to their destinations on time,” he said. “We’re tired, we’re fed up, and we want equal rights.”

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority has said it has a contingency plan in place to deal with the labour dispute. Air Canada and WestJet are not serviced by Swissport.