It’s getting ugly at Air Canada.
Two weeks after their legal and constitutional right to strike was taken away by the Harper government under the guise of “protecting the economy,” the sight of the Minister who brought forward the labor-hostile legislation getting on one of their planes was too much to bear for some Air Canada employees.
“Thanks for taking away our right to strike!” shouted the ground workers to Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, sarcastically clapping. The heckles got worse. Security intervened and three employees were disciplined and suspended for 72 hours. The situation inflamed until 37 workers walked off the job and staged a wildcat strike. The 37 workers were fired by Air Canada. This led the union to walk out en masse at Pearson International Airport, Canada’s busiest airport and the site of Air Canada’s largest and busiest terminal.The workers said they were going to be on strike for 72 hours, just as long as the suspensions were to last. The situation on the ground was rowdy, with altercations between strikers and passers-by (including a photo of a man spitting in a ground worker’s face) and thousands of miserable stranded passengers. Job action started spreading to Montreal and other cities, with more flights being disrupted. Over 60 Air Canada flights were canceled due to the action, with dozens more delayed or threatened with cancellation.
A few moments ago, Air Canada got an injunction against the action at Pearson, reinstating all fired and suspended workers and telling employees to return to work immediately. The union is asking its members to comply and return to work.
The situation at Air Canada is tense. Workers, management and customers are all unhappy in the face of lengthy and unproductive negotiations. Management wants big cuts. Unions want to protect their jobs and benefits. In addition to the ground workers’ union, Air Canada is also in negotiation with their pilots’ union, who have also been denied their right to strike by the Harper government. Last weekend, Air Canada accused their pilots of illegal job action after enough pilots called in sick to cause widespread disruption on many weekend flights.
But when you take away a union’s legal right to strike in the middle of tense and protracted contract negotiations, what can you expect?
Photo from Simon Ostler