Airport authority blames union for flight mayhem

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Barb Sweet
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Union says not enough snowplow operators, mechanics to fill roster

The St. John’s International Airport Authority is accusing the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) of once again failing to meet its obligations under the essential services agreement.

The snow and its aftermath over the weekend caused a number of delays and cancellations at the airport.

According to the authority, the signed agreement — issued as an order of the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) — stipulates the union is required to co-operate to ensure there are a sufficient number of essential employees available to maintain safe airport operations.

The authority said it exercised its rights under the essential services agreement to ask for additional operators from the union to maintain priority one areas of the airfield and safe airport operations, but said the union failed to ensure there were six additional operators available.

As a result, the single crew of operators was unable to maintain the airfield to a level required for safe airline operations, the authority said.

Had the additional resources been made available, the flight schedule would have been minimally affected, the authority said.

 “The union’s refusal to co-operate under the essential services agreement is reckless, irresponsible and is a callous disregard for public safety. Not only did this inconvenience many travellers, the closure of the airfield meant the airport was unavailable for medical flights and emergency landings.

“We view this as a serious breach of PSAC’s duty to co-operate and we are requesting an immediate CIRB hearing to deal with this latest failure,” Keith Collins, authority president and CEO, said in a news release.

He said normal operations resumed Sunday afternoon.

But Chris Bussey, a spokesman for the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees Local 90916 negotiating committee, said the mayhem would have taken place anyway because the authority doesn’t have enough snowplow operators and mechanics to fill the roster.

He also that noted employees have family and other obligations when they aren’t on call.

He contends that because of the airport’s uncompetitive rate of pay, workers have left to take higher wages with municipalities, or on large projects such as the Vale nickel processing plant in Long Harbour.

The union membership wants parity with workers at Halifax international Airport, Bussey said, adding what they don’t want is concessions.

The airport authority is seeking concessions on job security, pensions and contracting out.

Bussey said the union is willing to negotiate, but the members have issued a clear mandate.

“We have expressed that we have some movement on some of the things that are on the table and we’re willing to negotiate, but not to strip all our language and still be with substandard wages,” Bussey said.

Wages vary between the trades. According to Bussey, a light duty snowplow operator here makes $19.04 an hour, while a counterpart at the Halifax airport makes $10 an hour more.

He also said that a heavy equipment operator at the airport here makes $20.69, versus at $30.54 at the Halifax airport.

A firefighter in St. John’s

makes $26.16, versus $34.39 at the Halifax airport. An electrician makes $25.12 here, and a counterpart in Halifax makes $32.14 an hour.

The authority has indicated it has a room rented today for negotiations. Bussey said the union’s chief negotiator will fly into Gander and travel to St. John’s. He said the authority offered the invitation through email and the media, rather than offering an olive branch directly to the union.

“Is it a ploy or are they eager to settle the strike?” Bussey said.

Collins, meanwhile, said he has no knowledge that any workers have left to take more lucrative jobs, adding the airport hired a full complement of winter crews despite the strike.

“We’ve no idea where this is coming from,” he said.

Collins also said the Halifax airport isn’t the right one to compare wages to, since it’s nearly three times larger.

With the current offer, the

St. John’s workers would be the second highest paid in Atlantic Canada, he said.

But while the gap will be reduced, the notion that wages would be matched with Halifax is “not on,” Collins said.

“We simply don’t have the size and the financial capacity to match them,” he said.

As for the contract language, Collins said there are no concessions for current employees.

For example, he said the job security item was one that was guaranteed to federal employees when the airport was switched out of federal control. Under the authority’s proposal, future employees would not be given the guarantee of no layoffs, he said.

And the authority is proposing two options to provide a better split on pension contributions. One option reduces the cap on the index against inflation from eight per cent down to 3.5 per cent, Collins said.

He said if both sides want to deal, a resolution to the strike can be done in a day.

But Collins said this is the second time in three weeks that the authority has had to go to the CIRB related to the union’s violation of the agreement during a weather event. Following an incident last month, the CIRB ruled that the union should have provided the additional resources that were requested, Collins said.

 As late as last week, the union and the authority submitted a signed amendment to the essential services agreement to the CIRB that clarified misunderstandings associated with the requirement to provide additional resources, the authority said, claiming PSAC did not honour the intention of this amended agreement on the weekend.

 “It appears that PSAC’s misuse of the essential services agreement is a bargaining strategy. This strategy will not work. The essential services agreement is too important to be used as a ploy for bargaining and we are calling on the CIRB to ensure that PSAC will comply with its obligations under the essential services agreement,” Collins said.

The strike began three months ago.

Bussey said the workers just want to be acknowledged for their contributions to the airport’s financial success.

“There is so much that should be going on at that airport and it’s our workers that built that airport to the fine facility it was before we went on strike. The airport now is showing signs it is starting to run down,” he said.

 

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Organizations: Public Service Alliance of Canada, Canada Industrial Relations Board, International Airport Authority Union of Canadian Transportation Employees Local Long Harbour.The union Halifax international Airport

Geographic location: Halifax, Gander, Atlantic Canada

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Recent comments

  • Just Saying
    December 26, 2012 - 08:40

    Anyone who knows anything about the airline business knows that you guy's and gals are doing snow dances and waiting for the mess to occur to drag your feet !!! I landed on a flight 3 am some weeks ago and I believe it was only the second flight to land that night and there may have been 2 cut's made across the main ramp!!! Before you start to flame here Im unionized and I get It but Im hearing 30 to 60 per cent raises!! Really? enlighten us please.I work for a Canadian airline who just put almost 600 employees to the street and I have never had any job security myself after 14 years there!!! Any bet's for a repeat event on Friday !!snow's in the forecast !!!

  • Cod Father
    December 25, 2012 - 13:21

    This is unbeliveable! Who in their right mind will want to come and live and work and start an international business in St. John's if the airport workers are on strike and planes can't land?!

  • P F Murphy
    December 23, 2012 - 14:55

    What is reckless, irresponsible and a callous disregard for public safety is the fact that the Airport Authority did not conclude a collective agreement 3 years ago, but has kept these employees and the safety of air travellers throughout the year unsettled to try a save a buck on the union's trust to keep negotiating. An airport plow operator operates a plow at an airport and should get paid the rate for doing that job. If the airport like Halifax is 3 times as large, there will be 3 times as many operators. Any operator can only do a day's work in a day. Three times the size equals 3 times the workers and the same for management. Strangely, here, 3 times smaller means significantly more pay for the managers but not even the same pay for the workers. I know it's one of those N jokes, right? It's not surprising that workers would take work with other employers after 3 months on strike and if you have a commitment there, as an honourable worker to an honourable employer, you have to fulfil that commitment. Asking the union then to pull workers out of thin air is just a exercise in propaganda, not reality. It seems to me that Collins and his Board are only out to spread spin to cover their incompetence and are actively working to destroy St. John's Airport. Let's replace him and the whole Board and get this thing settled before the real winter sets in! Oh and you pompous Business know-it-alls, you get the same respect back from your workers that you give to them. It's a 2-way street and there'll be some workers like yourselves, takers, but the majority respect an honest manager, not one who treats them as garbage like this Airport Management is currently. Three years of no strike between Sept and April and finally the management bluff failed and we have a strike. Well, what do you know? Quelle surprise! Bad management is bad management and it will fail disastrously every time, like now.

  • P F Murphy
    December 23, 2012 - 09:06

    What is reckless, irresponsible and a callous disregard for public safety is the fact that the Airport Authority did not conclude a collective agreement 3 years ago, but has kept these employees and the safety of air travellers throughout the year unsettled to try a save a buck on the union's trust to keep negotiating. An airport plow operator operates a plow at an airport and should get paid the rate for doing that job. If the airport like Halifax is 3 times as large, there will be 3 times as many operators. Any operator can only do a day's work in a day. Three times the size equals 3 times the workers and the same for management. Strangely, here, 3 times smaller means significantly more pay for the managers but not even the same pay for the workers. I know it's one of those N jokes, right? It's not surprising that workers would take work with other employers after 3 months on strike and if you have a commitment there, as an honourable worker to an honourable employer, you have to fulfil that commitment. Asking the union then to pull workers out of thin air is just a exercise in propaganda, not reality. It seems to me that Collins and his Board are only out to spread spin to cover their backsides and are actively working to destroy St. John's Airport. Let's replace him and the whole Board and get this thing settled before the real winter sets in! Oh and you Business big-mouthes, you get the same respect back from your workers that you give to them. It's a 2-way street and there'll be some workers like yourselves, but the majority won't be unless you treat them like shot like this Airport Management is currently.

  • John
    December 21, 2012 - 08:09

    Time for the airport to fire the lot. I'm quite sure that more people are qualified to do snow clearing, plumbing, electrican's, etc. than Ronald Regan would have had in filling positions in air-traffic controllers that require a great deal of training. Time unions were barred from striking at all in essential areas. If you have an emergency at 30,000 feet you don't just call 911; you have to take care of it yourself which means having a clear runway that may need to be cleared "yesterday."

  • a business man
    December 20, 2012 - 01:49

    MCLOVIN - I can do whatever I want because I am the owner of my companies. I am the owner and I call the shots in the name of profits. The common worker is not entitled to do the same because he or she is just an employee, and owns nothing but their labour. They are just a tool and they will be displaced as soon as I find a cheaper version. I don't hate them, but I don't own then anything either. It is not hypocracy, but rather simple property rights. They do what they want with their property, and I do what I want with mine. So it is because if me thtat workers have moved to organize, but their orgainzing has led me to move jobs offshore. So they organize, and then I cut them out. As a result, I earn, but they don't. I am fine with that. No skin off my back. Futhermore, I am a lawyer by trade, and my investments/business are supplementary forms of income. SO what that means is that if I make the wrong decision, then oh well, I am still a lawyer. By the way, did you notice that GM has announced today that they are moving jobs from ONtario to the Michigan (who just passed right to work laws). Seems like smart business to me.

    • Dave
      December 23, 2012 - 07:49

      Soounds like you're a dabbler with no societal responsibilities whatsoever. So if some young fellow becomes, say, an electrician and you hire him and he starts a family and plans to put his kids through university but you find a cheaper way then...oh well..it's just a matter of property rights and what odds about his kids anyway. At this point in history the tide is with you and I dare say we'll be back to the truck system in a couple more decades. I fly the airplanes that bring you here and we are in a race to the bottom too. Safety is just another sub category that comes below things like "property rights" and "competitiveness" and if some day you are hurtling to the earth because the guys up front are making burger flipper wages then you will at least be able to say to your fellow bargain hunters "but look at the great deal we got!"

    • a business man
      December 24, 2012 - 12:54

      DAVE: I am a citizen with no societal responsibilities. Why would I want societal responsibilities? So that I can take care of people who are not related to me. NO THANKS. I want none of that. Regarding the young electrician, YES, absolutely yes, he will be replaced the moment I find a cheaper way. I have no concern for the education of his kids, or for anyone's kids, other than my own. That said, if he is the best electrician, I am happy to pay a premium for his services. But if he is just average, then I will look for savings. You are right though - at this point in history, the economy is being driven by property right and competitiveness. And as for the race to the bottom, I believe that there are SOME jobs that should be subject to a race to the bottom. I believe that any job that can be done by someone without a post secondary education should be paid less and less and less. Make no mistake - I understand the importance of the middle class. However, our middle class should be made up of accountants, teachers, office workers, analysts, IT professionals and other white collar employees. The middle class should exclude people who do jobs that can be done by unskilled uneducated people. I am not promoting a redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top, but rather am promoting a shift to eliminate blue collar unskilled workers from our middle class. That is my wish for my country, and I run my businesses accordingly, and I cast my votes accordingly too.

  • Stan
    December 18, 2012 - 10:32

    If the short sighted Airport authority could see beyond their nose, they aould have known in September they were going tohave a problem come winter. It has nothing to do with emegency landings at Torbay Airport. We have three top notch airports in Nfld plus a couple in Labrador that handle emergencies routinely. If anyone is concerned about getting into St. John's use Gander. Maybe the next board should have a few members that have been around aviation and understand the complexity of aircraft. Political Hacks just don't have it.

    • david
      December 19, 2012 - 17:23

      " If anyone is concerned about getting into St. John's use Gander." That advice is so unarguably, blatantly and meteorologically sensible...so why has no one in St. John's ever accepted it as such, instead of wasting millions on top of millions denying realtiy?

  • RObb
    December 18, 2012 - 09:31

    Had to repost.....hey Jamie, well said. These union thugs don't give a crap about anything but the almighty dollar, period. Who cares if there is an emergency and a loved one is in pain or dies, they just want to compare themselves to other people who make more than they do, and just complain about it. And I always get a good laugh from these union TV advertisements when they say, "This is who we are, this is what we do"....???...and a load...your getting paid break neck wages to do what you do, and we all know you are not "doing" anything for anybody.......and the unions can stand out in the road practically assaulting people with their cat calls, and then they cry fowl when the airport authority calls them out on something. This "not available" crap is just the biggest union ploy, and the union should be fined $100,000 for every worker who is conveniently "not available".......charge them with endangering lives, and see if they answer their phones next time. And don't even try to defend these thugs....I have seen union low balling first hand, and it's just plain ugly.

    • kent
      December 18, 2012 - 13:36

      If it were not for the labor movement, things such things as vacation, stat holidays, child-care, sick-leave, and workplace safety would be non-existent.... Oh and by the way genius.... The quote is not "cry fowl " but rather "cry foul".. Unless of course you are making some sort of duck call.

  • Robb
    December 18, 2012 - 09:23

    What a load of crap....Bussey says the workers "counterpart in Halifax"....????....what is Hecuba to he, or he to Hecuba....little bit of Shakespeare, but even he knew the difference......why do unions continue to compare themselves to what others are getting.....just a greed ploy......if someone is making more somewhere else, well then if you really want the money, which is all you want, well then just go there.......and stop with the greed crap....I mean it's a never ending story.........then if you jokers start making more than them, they will strike to say they want to be on par with you, they get more and you guys strike again.....and it just goes on and on.........and why would you compare yourselves to Halifax.......an airport that is three times our size....why don't you compare to an airport, say in Nadi, Fiji......its like you get on the Internet , find out if someone is making more than you, and then you compare youselves to them.........hey people, wake up.....these are the wages being offered for the job here, not in Halifax or anywhere else, here. Don't like it, move on and give someone else who would appreciate a decent job. Your like a bunch of 3rd graders complaining to the teacher...."hey, Tommy got more than me".....well, take you ball and go on home out of it.

    • Brad
      December 18, 2012 - 11:09

      You mad, bro?

    • Robb
      December 18, 2012 - 12:01

      Not mad Brad, just sick and tired of hearing working people complaining about their jobs...

  • Jamie
    December 18, 2012 - 09:00

    My husband works in Alberta and has to fly across Canada every two weeks. Of course, since we live in NL we are accustomed to the occasional delay. This sort of thing is to be expected. What I cannot accept is the complete and total disregard for public safety due to this latest strike. On his return flight last night, the aircraft circled St. John’s – only to be told they could not land because the runway had not been cleared. They were redirected to Halifax, and then St. John ‘s. This is completely outrageous! What part of “essential services” am I not understanding? There are men, women and children in the sky who may require an emergency landing at any time. The closure of the airfield means the airport is not able to accommodate medical flights and emergency landing. Does anyone else find this slightly disturbing? In my opinion, the union’s refusal to co-operate under the essential services agreement shows a wanton and reckless disregard for public safety.

    • a business man
      December 18, 2012 - 10:20

      I agree with you Jamie, but in this country the union's right to strike is more important than your husband's life. I agree that the union has legal rights, but those rights should not inconvenience those of us who have nothing to do with this labour dispute, and those of us who are okay with the union not getting what they want. It is situations like this that leads me to feel joy when moving unionized jobs to the USA and Asia.....the joy I feel is from 1) taking money out of the union coffers by removing jobs, 2) by preventing union supporters from making the money they need to live and 3) to reduce the money collected by the government in taxes by eliminated jobs. I feel this job because I disagree with the rights that unions have, and I disagree with the government that gives them these rights. So I choose to structure my businesses without either of them.

    • McLovin
      December 18, 2012 - 12:32

      Hey "Business Man" - it's because of people like you that workers had to move to organized labour practices in the first place. Why is it that you feel that you can do whatever you want to increase the amount of profit you make (at the the common worker's expense) but yet the common worker is not entitled to the same? Where I come from, we call that hypocrisy. If you had any guts at all, you would tell us what "business" it is you are in but I am sure you want to protect your profits!!