Pearson ground crew claim strike caused significant baggage delays in evening

The union representing 700 striking workers at Canada’s busiest airport says the walkout has caused some significant baggage handling delays so far but management is calling it “an initial hiccup.”

Both sides are looking ahead to Sunday to see how operations fare when air traffic normally picks up through Pearson International Airport.

Teamsters spokesman Harjinder Badial said the movement of baggage was delayed Friday evening anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours, because experienced ground crew were walking the picket line.

“There were significant delays,” said Badial, who is vice-president of the union local for the striking workers. “The [Greater Toronto Airports Authority] hasn’t been reporting it, but we have been watching the tarmac as well.”

Swissport, which provides ground crew for 30 of Pearson’s 74 airlines, including Air Transat, Air France, and Sunwing, issued a statement acknowledging some problems on Friday in coping with the effects of the strike.

“We experienced an initial hiccup with the rollout of our plan that resulted in delays for some flights,” Pierre Payette, Swissport Canada’s Vice President of Operations for Toronto, said in a statement issued Saturday evening. “Things are running much better today and we are feeling positive about the progress we are making.”

Badial predicted that Sunday could see greater delays than Friday, noting that all of Swissport’s contracted airlines will have flights landing at Pearson.

“It’s a challenging day for our members when they’re on the job on a Sunday,” Badial said. “We’ll see what happens with these guys.”

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority said in a statement Saturday that there were “some early departures and some delays with scheduled flights” on Friday.

Badial said Swissport has reached out to him since the strike started on Thursday night, but wouldn’t budge from its latest offer.

Among the workers’ concerns are pay and benefits cuts, as well as Swissport’s hiring of 250 temporary workers last May.

Air Canada and Westjet do not use Swissport.

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