Union members must vote to ratify agreement to end 10-month dispute
— Telegram file photo
After almost 10 months on the picket line, it appears an end may be in sight for striking workers at St. John’s International Airport.
Both the union and the St. John’s International Airport Authority (SJIAA) confirmed Tuesday afternoon a tentative deal has been reached.
“It feels good, because it’s been a long struggle,” said Chris Bussey, a negotiator with Public Service Alliance of Canada’s Union of Canadian Transportation Employees Local 90916 who is also an airport employee.
In a news release issued at 2:30 p.m., SJIAA said details of the agreement would not be made public until it is ratified by the union. However, its wording of the release indicated the airport authority is optimistic the deal can be ratified.
“We look forward to our employees returning to work in the near future and getting back to normal operations,” said SJIAA in its release.
SJIAA also thanked federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt and federal mediation and conciliation services for its help during the labour dispute.
Bussey said the labour minister called on the federally-appointed mediators to present recommendations to both sides after talks in Ottawa and St. John’s failed to generate a deal — Bussey said the two sides were falling just short of reaching a deal at that point.
Those recommendations from the mediators turned out to form the basis of the tentative agreement.
No deal for four years
The union’s last collective agreement expired in 2009. Workers set up a picket line on Sept. 11, less than a week after voting in favour of a strike. The union is representing approximately 85 maintenance workers in the dispute.
Talks between the two sides broke off at various points over the last 10 months. The union was looking for a rate of pay comparable to what workers with similar jobs received at other airports in Atlantic Canada such as Stanfield International Airport in Halifax.
However, SJIAA contended those demands were not reasonable given the airport in St. John’s is smaller than Halifax.
SJIAA ex-pressed public dissatisfaction with the striking workers at times. It accused workers at one point of failing to adhere to the essential services agreement that required some striking workers to report for duty in the event of severe weather.
It also filed a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board claiming the union was bargaining in bad faith. The board ultimately disagreed.
St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, who strongly advocated for both sides to get a deal done out of concern for the strike’s economic impact on the city, was delighted to hear Tuesday’s news that a tentative deal was in place.
“It’s been a long, long, long strike,” said O’Keefe.
The mayor did speak with representatives from both sides of the dispute in recent weeks and had a sense they were close to resolving the matter. If workers vote to accept the deal, O’Keefe hopes that will put an end to convention cancellations and other lost economic opportunities linked to the strike.
“I would imagine that the employees will be back to work very soon and I’m sure the employer and the employees will resume their duties in a professional and friendly fashion and will get on to building the city and building the province,” he said. “The airport and aviation is crucial to the future of this city and the future of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Bussey said there remains details to work on with SJIAA before a vote is held.
“We want to make sure that everyone is protected going back to work and that there’s no retaliation, no retribution, from either side,” he said.
“We want to make sure we have that spelled out and put before the members at the same time (as a vote).”
Bussey said that process could continue into late this week or early next week.