Unions rally in support of striking airport workers

Daniel MacEachern
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About 120 striking airport workers and supporters rallied Thursday, with the strike now in its third month.

Local labour leaders called for St. John’s airport management to return to the negotiating table with Union of Canadian Transportation Employees Local 90916 — part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) — who have been on strike since Sept. 11.

Representatives from sympathetic local unions — including United Steelworkers and the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) — were also on hand to speak to striking workers and to present donations to the airport workers’ strike fund.

FFAW president Earle McCurdy called on the provincial government to avoid flying out of the St. John’s airport during the strike.

Lana Payne, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, praised St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe for working to try to get both sides back to the bargaining table for the first time since before the strike began.

Jeannie Baldwin, executive vice-president for the Atlantic region of PSAC, said the rally sends a message to airport management.

“What this airport is trying to do is cause a division within the workplace, within workers,” she said. “We really believe that we’re out there recruiting people to come to work with the international airport, people should be paid the same and respected the same way.”

Baldwin said the union is in talks with the mediator in preparation for returning to the bargaining table.

“We’ll see where it goes. Hopefully we will be back at the table, and this employer will be fair. That’s all we want, is to be treated fair and with respect.”

She said the donations from other unions are much appreciated by the airport workers.

“We do have a healthy strike fund, but it’s about the workers,” she said. “We want to make sure that their families are not doing without during the holiday season.”

Chris Bussey, spokesman for the union’s negotiating team, said the show of support from other unions is a morale boost for the airport workers.

“Our members are pumped with the support shown here today, both financially and with the kind words,” he said. “These are representatives of many thousands of people who are supporting us across this province. It’s great to have the support, and our members have been solid right through the strike.”

Heavy equipment operator Darryl Jackman agreed.

“We’re strong as it is now, the strongest the union’s ever been. And to see all the other unions coming and backing us up, it’s just great. Makes us more determined.”

Payne said there will be increased pressure on both sides to get a deal done as the amount of travel ramps up during the busy Christmas season. She said she isn’t worried about a backlash from the public if snowy weather forces the delay or cancellation of more flights, as happened during a snowstorm in November.

“I think folks can look at the workers here and see that they’ve been trying to get a collective agreement. It’s not like they waited until winter to go on strike. They’ve been on strike since September, trying to protect what’s in their collective agreement and get some wage parity with similar workers across the country.”

The striking workers are demanding wage parity with workers at Halifax International Airport. The workers have been without a collective agreement since 2009 and haven’t had a wage increase in four years.

A request for comment from the St. John’s International Airport Authority was not returned.


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Organizations: Public Service Alliance of Canada, Union of Canadian Transportation Employees Local, Allied Workers Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour Halifax International Airport International Airport Authority

Geographic location: Atlantic

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