The St. John’s Airport Authority is accusing the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) of again failing to meet its obligations under the essential services agreement during the weekend’s snowfall.
The snowfall and its aftermath caused a number of flight 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 request 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 to maintain safe operations.
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, impacts to the flight schedule would have been minimal, 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, authroity president and CEO said in a news release.
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 noted people have family and other obligations when they aren’t on call. He workers have left to take higher wages with municipalities, or large projects like Long Harbour.
The union membership wants parity with Halifax international Airport, Bussey said. They also don’t want concessions, while the 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, and a counterpart makes $10 more an hour at the Halifax airport. He also said: A heavy equipment operator at the airport here makes $20.69, versus at $30.54 at the Halifax airport.
A firefighter makes $26.16 in St. John’s, versus 34.39 at the Halifax airport. An electrician makes $25.12 here, and the counterpart in Halifax makes $32.14 an hour at the airport in Halifax.
The authority has indicated it has a room rented tomorrow (Tuesday). Bussey said a union official will fly into Gander and travel to St. John’s. He said the authority has 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 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 snow event.
Following the 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 this past 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 as before we went on strike. The airport now is showing signs it is starting to rundown,” he said.