This morning was a little out of the ordinary for travellers with Air Canada arriving at St. John's International Airport. It is the first day of operations for Canada's largest airliner after 3,800 employees began striking just after 1:30 a.m.
The move affects 42 workers in St. John's, most of whom are customer service agents.
Managers and other staff, many in from Montreal, are filling the roles of striking workers.
About a dozen striking workers were stationed on Craig Dobbin's Way this morning waving to cars as they passed by and flying flags for its union, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union. Negotiations between the union and Air Canada broke off on Monday.
Judy Byrne, a customer sales and service agent in St. John's, said Air Canada is planning to eventually cut the pension fund of workers in half and reduce survivor benefits.
“We've taken rollbacks, cutbacks — we've taken everything,” she said. “You've got to draw the line somewhere. We worked hard for our pensions.”
Based on two hours of observation, lineups were non-existent for travellers looking to catch the noon-hour flight to Toronto.
However, there were delays. The Air Canada flight coming from Toronto arrived 30 minutes late at 11:46 a.m., and did not depart until 12:44 p.m.
Michael Morey, a director of cargo operations for Air Canada, said workers from Source Security were brought in to help manage the flow of passengers checking-in with Air Canada by directing them towards the check-in kiosks, if necessary.
Four security personnel were also stationed on Craig Dobbin's Way, approximately 100 feet from picketing workers.
Morey would not confirm the exact number of staff brought in from Montreal to handle customer service in St. John's, but said they were dealing with a smaller-than-usual group.
According to a Canadian Press story, Air Canada has $13 billion worth of pension commitments to 26,000 active employees and 29,000 retirees. The company was forced into creditor protection from April 2003 to September 2004.