Montreal airport refuellers strike, but labour board orders union back to table

MONTREAL — Workers in charge of refuelling planes at two Montreal airports went on strike Tuesday morning, prompting the city’s airport authority to warn of possible flight delays.

Hours later, the Canada Industrial Relations Board allowed workers to maintain their strike, but ordered their union immediately back to the negotiating table.

Roughly 100 employees with Swissport Canada, the only supplier of fuel for airlines operating out of Montreal’s cargo airfield in Mirabel and the city’s main airport, Montreal-Trudeau International, walked off the job around 11 a.m.

“We are continuing our strike,” union spokesman Michel Richer said in an interview Tuesday afternoon, following the labour board ruling. ”We’ll be back on the picket lines in Montreal and Mirabel tomorrow morning.”

Swissport Canada said it didn’t expect any significant delays or work slowdowns due to the labour conflict, saying it brought in trained managers from across the country to replace the striking workers.

All day Tuesday, many flights posted on the website of Montreal-Trudeau had been listed as delayed, but a spokesperson for the airport authority said those problems were due to bad weather.

Peter Tsoukalas, president of the local for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said earlier in the day his members fuelled all the planes at Montreal-Trudeau before hitting the picket lines.

“We tried to help the population by making sure all the planes were filled before we launched the strike,” Tsoukalas said.

Police and airport patrol at Montreal-Trudeau were working to ensure security and the continuity of operations, the airport authority said in a statement.

“Operations are continuing at the airport, but … the dispute could result in delays in flight schedules.”

Swissport employees in Montreal rejected a tentative contract deal in a 90 per cent vote last Friday.

According to the labour board ruling, the tentative deal included a provision that the union would recommend its members vote in favour of it.

The labour board also said the union didn’t tell Swissport about the vote result. Instead, the union gave the company a 72-hour strike notice and on Sunday, “made new demands that were estimated to be more than double what was in the tentative contract deal.”

Swissport complained to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, saying the union was negotiating in bad faith and asking the board to suspend the strike. The board ruled Tuesday that the union could maintain its strike, but had to drop the new demands made on Sunday.

The board also ordered the union “immediately” back to the negotiating table with Swissport. Both sides say they have not yet set a date for negotiations to restart.

Federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi called on both sides to continue bargaining.

“I am disappointed that the parties have been unable to resolve their differences and I urge them to continue their efforts to reach a negotiated settlement,” she said in a release. ”We are monitoring the situation closely.”

Salaries and work-life balance are the main points of contention between Swissport and its Montreal-area workers, who have been without a contract since August.

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