Striking airport workers mark six months

Daniel MacEachern
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Silent march through terminal joined by labour leaders, politicians

Striking airport workers, labour leaders and supporters march through the St. John’s International Airport terminal Monday in a silent protest to bring to public attention they are now in their sixth month on the picket line. Labour leaders have pointed a finger at the airport authority’s lead negotiator, Denis Mahoney, who has a history of being involved in long strikes. — Photo by Dan MacEachern/The Telegram

Striking airport maintenance workers marked six months off the job Monday with a silent march through the St. John’s airport.

About 75 workers and supporters of the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s Union of Canadian Transportation Employees Local 90916 walked several times through the terminal building, forgoing the chants of “solidarity” and other slogans from a similar rally in September, less than two weeks after the strike began Sept. 11. This time around, said union negotiator Chris Bussey, the silent march was meant to evoke a vigil. Other workers stationed at the entrances handed out leaflets urging the public demand airport management settle the strike.

“Six months on strike is too long to be on strike when we’re facing great economic conditions for the airport, but they’re looking for great cuts from the union,” said Bussey. “It affects job security. It affects contracting out.

“The silence — if we don’t stand up now for what we’re fighting for, then that’ll be the voices that are left. There’ll be very few people left in that workplace. Their goal seems to be to get the union out of the workplace,” Bussey said.

At issue are wages and airport management contracting out work, he said.

“We don’t see any reason to give concessions on the language for either contracting out or job security,” he said, adding that the airport has put forward contract language suggesting categories of work to be contracted out that are broad enough to encompass almost anything done at the airport, including work done by the union.

“They committed going into the last round of bargaining to give us a list of work that they contracted out in the past, and we were agreeable that that was work they had contracted out and could continue to contract out, but when they came to the table they came with categories or buckets of work, and those categories or buckets could encapsulate every bit of work that’s done at that airport, so that was not acceptable.”

But Keith Collins, president and CEO of the airport authority, said the only thing that’s changed with work the airport would contract out is that the union wants a veto over what is done.

“What we proposed to the union in the most recent round of bargaining was language that would support our current practice. No more, no less,” he said. “Any suggestion that our objectives are beyond that, I think at this stage, is fear-mongering to keep our employees off-balance and keep them under the control of their bargaining team.”

Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour president Lana Payne, speaking to the crowd, called out the airport authority’s chief negotiator, Denis Mahoney, who also represented employer Vale during the 18-month Voisey’s Bay strike, which ended Jan. 31.

“I think his history shows he’s part of the problem. He has two very, very long strikes on his record. Now he’s president of the St. John’s Board of Trade, and we have a situation where we have a strike here at this airport,” said Payne. “He’s almost playing two roles here in many cases, when you hear on the one hand the Board of Trade trying to pump up business and tourism and all of this, and yet we have a strike here where he’s basically, in my opinion, not been bargaining fairly with these workers.”

Mahoney, through the board of trade, declined to comment.

Bussey said he’s not surprised the strike has lasted this long, and blamed management’s unwillingness to settle.

“I know the negotiator they’re using is notorious for long strikes,” he said. “So I understood that their agenda would be to stay out and to keep workers on the picket line as long as they could.”

Collins said it’s the union that has dug in its heels and ensured a lengthy strike.

“Our concern was that PSAC wanted a strike first and a deal second, and that was their behaviour at the bargaining table,” he said.

Monday’s rally drew federal and provincial politicians calling for an end to the strike. While Liberal MHA Eddie Joyce urged both sides to get back to the table.

“Let’s get back to the table, let’s get this resolved, so that we can get this airport up and running so the major conventions that were cancelled can come back here,” he said — NDP MHA Gerry Rogers laid the blame for the length of the strike at management’s feet, saying the authority has been unwilling to negotiate.

“Workers are the basis of our economy, and if we do not have a secure work population, it’s going to come back and bite us in the end, because then people cannot participate in the economic functions of our community and the economic health of our community,” she said. “This airport is not supposed to be for profit. It’s a not-for-profit service to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. That’s what it’s about, and our workers are underpaid compared to other workers in the rest of the Atlantic provinces.”

NDP MP Jack Harris has been flying in and out of the Gander airport since the strike began. He said it’s unfortunate that the strike is a situation in which Newfoundlanders are telling other Newfoundlanders they don’t deserve the same amount of money similar workers at the Halifax airport receive.

“That’s shocking. They’re looking at an equity situation: The same work, the same kind of facility — very profitable airport here. The revenue is very high, so they’re seeking to have a pay relationship that recognizes the work they do,” said Harris.

The most recent round of bargaining broke off at the end of February. The union wants a 56 per cent increase over four years, including a 34 per cent bump in the first year, retroactive to 2009. The airport authority’s latest offer is 33.8 per cent over seven years, also retroactive.

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Public Service Alliance of Canada, Union of Canadian Transportation Employees Local, Board of Trade Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Gander, Halifax

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Recent comments

  • Well done beys
    March 17, 2013 - 09:28

    Well the strikers certainly showed the airport authority didn't they, so thanks to this years greed i can only assume that the board will deem that there won't be as many workers required for the up coming winter season, we all want more money for the jobs we do and we all have a choice stay and work or go west! I have fifteen years heavy equipment experience and have done the snow clearing on the apron personally I don't agree with unions their only in it to line their own pockets but that's my own beliefs,good luck folks hopefully you won't need it

  • Ron
    March 13, 2013 - 10:50

    There out to lunch, a 56% pay increase. Good luck

  • RkoMac
    March 13, 2013 - 09:09

    Where's Ronnie Regan when you need him? Fire the lot!

  • Toot Toot
    March 13, 2013 - 08:46

    Just a note to picketers...not every blazing horn is in support of you guys; most are blasting at you to get off the road, clean up the mess and go back to work.

  • Brett
    March 13, 2013 - 08:31

    BTW - I hope that Jack Harris isn't trying to expense the additional cost of flying out of Gander airport because he doesn't want to cross the picket line... I wonder how many flights that is - and how many fly to st. john's before going to the mainland...

  • Eli
    March 12, 2013 - 18:49

    I'm sick & tired of driving by this dispute too. While the Union has a strike mandate, management has essential union workers. That's a no-settlement argument right there. Bet Collins et al generously compensate themselves thru all this. That's not right. But 56% union demand is out to lunch!

  • Research
    March 12, 2013 - 12:37

    Where's the incentive to settle when their strike pay is more than they make on the job. Not to mention the hours per day are shorter as picket duty shifts are shorter then their regular work shifts. More money, less work, why would anyone want to settle?

    • Brett
      March 12, 2013 - 22:10

      but how long until the strike pay runs out and the union is bankrupt?

  • Happily Retired
    March 12, 2013 - 12:11

    I was half thinking about voting NDP until I saw Geri(is she nuts) Rogers shouting to the strikers that nobody should use the airport. That changed my mind in a hurry. I spent many years in unions, but I've never seen the greed displayed by this bunch. They're getting full pay while they're out so there's no incentive for them to bargain. Also their ads are misleading, if not untruthful. You're wrong boys, not for profit organizations can, and should, make profits. Their mindset that they have to destroy their opposition flies directly in the face of any positive working relationship, and will only hurt them in the long run.

  • ABC
    March 12, 2013 - 12:09

    It's as easy as ABC: Accept the offer; Back to work; Clean up your mess; period.

  • Rj
    March 12, 2013 - 10:27

    I am a member of a different union. My union constantly sends us emails to go and support these fools. Let me tell you, they have lost my support long ago. This is no longer fighting for equality but being stubborn based on greed. Halifax airport is far busier than St. John's currently is. Yes, while you may deserve a bit of a pay increase I think what you're asking for is completely outrageous. Perhaps you would have half a leg to stand on once the expansion/renovation project at YYT is complete. Until then, get your lazy asses back to work and take what has been reasonably offered to you. You are lucky you still have a job in today's current economic Dunderdale mess. If you stay out much longer the airport may realize that they don't really need you to operate.

  • Brett
    March 12, 2013 - 10:06

    I feel sorry for the union workers who have been on strike. I really think that you need to look at what you're giving up by striking. Winter is over, you've done what you can + it isn't about what someone else somewhere else gets. I don't know how many flights they have to clear the runway for vs. you in a shift. If there's a difference because of the size of planes (multiple international flights vs. 1 or 2 international flights)... I suggest you look to your families, find yourselves other work + maybe find a way back to the airport after things clear up if you really want to. Every day you strike + don't get paid is a day you aren't earning what you could for your family. In my opinion your time is really better off searching for alternate employment. That is the action that will teach both union management and the airport executive management a lesson.

  • Union Jack
    March 12, 2013 - 09:40

    Other than the damage, vandalism and sabatoge of equipment, you'd never know there was a strike at the airport.

    • Don't Forget
      March 12, 2013 - 10:38

      Don't forget the unsighlty mess that the protesters will leave behind once the strike is settled; and, in true union fashion, they'll deny they had anything to do with it. There is no public support for the union; all they are getting is from family members and other union hot-heads; the strike cannot be justified and the demands are unreasonable.

    March 12, 2013 - 09:32

    56% over 4 years ????? Seems pretty high to me. It also looks like the union wants to run the airport. It they want public support, get both sides to go public with their demands. The airport is something that affects a lot of the public and a strike should not last this long. In today's economy, 33.8% over 7 years looks more reasonable.

  • original townie
    March 12, 2013 - 07:09

    Winter is over boys and the airport authority made it through without you. Going to be a long summer on the line.....enjoy. As for public support, you are losing a little more each day. You lost your best opportunity after 30 days by not settling with upcoming winter was in your favor. This is going to bite your behind.