Pearson ground crew votes on contract offer

TORONTO — About 700 ground crew workers at Canada’s busiest airport could go on strike Thursday night if they vote to reject a contract offer from their employer.

The potential labour dispute could have an impact on some operations at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, but the agency that operates the sprawling facility said it had a contingency plan in place.

The unionized workers are employed by Swissport, a company that services 30 airlines at the airport including Sunwing, Air Transat, Air France and British Airways.

The workers include baggage handlers, cargo handlers, cabin cleaners and other ground staff, as well as some employees who tow planes for the airlines Swissport services.

The members of Teamsters Local 419 were voting Thursday on an offer from Swissport. If they reject the deal — as recommended by their union — they could walk off the job as early as 9:30 p.m. Thursday, the union said.

“We just want a fair deal from the company,” said union spokesman Christopher Monette. “Nobody wants to go on strike. Nobody likes to go on strike.”

In the case of a strike, picket lines would be set up at Pearson’s Terminal 3 and a cargo terminal near Swissport’s administrative offices, Monette said.

“We’re not going to be there to stir up trouble,” he said, noting, however, that there could be disruptions to cargo traffic.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority said it had a contingency plan in place in the event of a strike or labour disruption but did not provide details.

Some of the airlines serviced by Swissport also said they were prepared if workers walked off the job.

Air Transat said it was taking measures to ensure none of its flights would be delayed if a strike occurs. British Airways said it had a contingency plan and would continue to operate all its flights.

WestJet, which does not work with Swissport, said it was aware of the situation and advised passengers to arrive early for their flights to avoid delays.

Pierre Payette, Swissport Canada’s vice president of operations, said the company has bargained in good faith throughout contract talks. It also put out a memo to employees Tuesday, asking them to vote in favour of the company’s final offer.

“We remain hopeful that there will be a positive outcome when employees vote today as our offer is fair to all parties,” Payette said in a statement.

The union, however, has described Swissport’s contract as unfair to its workers. It has also taken issue with the company’s decision to hire 250 temporary workers last May.

The union filed a complaint with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board over that matter, alleging the temporary workers are poorly trained and have been involved in multiple accidents over the past few months.

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