State of Canadian Labor Relations and Media Coverage

TorontoPearson.com

TorontoPearson.com

Friday, July 3rd,  there was a two day wildcat strike at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. On a busy summer weekend 37 then 50+ workers called in sick on Friday and Saturday disrupting traffic at the Airport. Here was the coverage of the event in the Toronto Newspapers:

Toronto GlobeandMailToronto StarToronto SunNational Post
Toronto GlobeandMail

Scores of passengers saw their plans disrupted Friday when about 100 flights at Toronto Pearson International Airport were cancelled and many others delayed as a result of an apparent protest by workers facing job losses when a refuelling contract changes hands later this year.

A union spokesman says 30 of 47 workers scheduled for the Friday morning shift called in sick, while others refused to work overtime. Just 17 of 56 workers showed up in the afternoon with one shift remaining to provide fuel for the rest of the day’s flights. “Basically these guys are all going to lose their jobs Oct. 1 and so I think frustration is the key phrase,” ….

A number of airlines are switching their refuelling business to Aircraft Service International Group (ASIG) in Toronto as of Oct. 1 and have already moved to Swissport in Montreal as of July 1.Trbovich said employees of Consolidated Aviation Fueling Services will have to apply for the same type of job at ASIG at lower wages and with no pension. Workers currently earning between $18 and 23 per hour will start at minimum wage up to a high of $14.

Toronto Star

A wildcat job action by workers who refuel aircraft has delayed or cancelled dozens of flights to and from Toronto Pearson International Airport on Friday.

“We are experiencing some delays and cancellations due to discussions between the airlines and the aircraft fueling company,” the airport said on its webpage. “Please check with your airline regarding flight information before proceeding to the airport.”

Delays of more than four hours were reported on Friday morning and flight delays and cancellations could get far worse throughout the day for various airlines using the airport.

As the disruption extended late into Friday afternoon, Air Canada issued a tweet announcing that change fees would be waived for flights on July 3, 4, and 5. This follows an announcement from earlier today allowing changes to Friday flights to be made without charge.

The Star went on to describe the disruption suffered by several passengers but no mention was made of the the loss of pay, pensions and even jobs to be suffered by the fuel workers on Oct 1.

Toronto Sun

Dozens of employees responsible for fuelling planes at Pearson airport called in sick Friday morning over a job action dispute which left passengers stranded.Employees with Consolidated Aviation Fuelling Services held a “sick-in” to protest job losses after Air Canada announced it was switching fuel providers….

Air Canada is switching its Toronto and Montreal fuel providers from Consolidated Aviation to ASIG in Toronto, effective Oct. 1, and to Swissport in Montreal, effective July 1. Trbovich says the fuelling staff are worried about job losses, benefits and pensions. “The airline walked away from the contract and can’t say they are the victim in this,” Trbovich said.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick says the airline isn’t involved in the labour dispute and that the disruption involves all airlines at the airport.”This is not a labour disruption between the airlines and their fuelling company,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is a labour disruption at Consolidated Aviation Fuelling Services which is affecting all airlines at Pearson. Delays and cancellations can be expected as a result and passengers should check on the status of their flight before getting to the airport.” The fuelling employees should be able to find work with the new company as their jobs are highly skilled and require strict security clearances, Fitzpatrick said.

Note like the Star, the Toronto Sun did not cite the fact that the fueling employees faced a cutback in wages of greater than 50% to just above minimum wage with no pension benefits despite the fact that “their jobs are highly skilled and require strict security clearances”. Given that assessment by Air Canada’s Fitzpatrick the obvious follow-up questions were whether Fitzpatrick would take a  new  PR job with a 50% drop in wages with no benefits and would the new minimum-wage employees enhance the security and reliability of fueling for domestic Air Canada flights.

National Post

More than two dozen flights were cancelled at Toronto’s Pearson Airport on Friday after a group of disgruntled staff did not show up to put fuel in the planes.More than 45 departing flights were cancelled as of Friday afternoon. The fuelling company, Consolidated Aviation Fueling of Toronto (CAFTL), said 60% of its employees unexpectedly took the day off. In a statement, CAFTL said the disruption is believed to be a “worker led response” to the airlines’ decision to cut ties with the company.

“We’re trying to contact our people to go back to work and they’re not doing it,” said Bill Trbovich, a spokesman with the International Associated of Machinists, which represents the CAFTL employees. “We didn’t condone it, OK? We didn’t know this was happening.” In October, CAFTL will no longer be the exclusive fuelling service at Pearson — with airlines independently entering into agreements with other companies.

Air Canada — one of the worst-affected airlines on Friday — issued a travel alert for Toronto Friday, citing an “airport disruption” and offering to waive penalties for passengers willing to change their travel plans.

“This is not a labour disruption between the airlines and their fueling company,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email. “This is a labour disruption at (CAFTL) which is affecting all airlines at Pearson.” Air Canada plans switch to ASIG for fuelling in Toronto on Oct. 1. In a statement Friday, Air Canada said the CAFTL employees that lose their jobs “would be able to apply for jobs at ASIG.”

“The airlines are saying they were innocent victims in this, which is a crock of sh-t,” Trbovich said. “They started it.” Thirty-five arriving flights were also cancelled, but not because of the dispute, the airport said. The fuelling-related cancellations make up less than 4 percent of the 841 scheduled departures from Pearson on Friday.

The National Post also failed to tell its readers that the fueling employees could have their jobs back at 50% less wages and no pension benefits.

Summary of News Coverage

Toronto is served by four major newspaper but only the Toronto GlobeandMail got the story right, telling the crucial facts about the cut in wages with no benefits being offered by the new Fueling company that has taken over already in Montreal and will be taking over Oct 1 this year in Toronto. The 3 major Toronto TV news networks[CBC, CTV and Global] also got the story right but only in later broadcasts and web stories. Curiously, the Toronto Sun which did not tell the wage and benefits rollback story did describe Air Canada PR spokesmen as saying ” their jobs are highly skilled and require strict security clearances”; so why hire a contractor that pays these highly skilled workers minimum wage and no benefits?

Finally, in the online commentary sections of the newspapers  one found that the reaction was largely sympathetic to the fueling workers because the commenters filled in the crucial wage gap information. But there were some Donald Trump Wannabee Trolls that scoffed at any injustice or danger insisting that the free markets would quickly correct for any over reach. “The airlines that were affected by the refueling problem should replace Consolidated Refueling with a non-union supplier and then the employees who booked off sick can be without a job permanently” or “ok yes the new company pays less, should government guarantee them wage levels? what level? 30, 50 or how about 100 an hour etc. no pal the free market works things out,, your industry going down hill, back to school etc, people have to adjust to reality.

Raiding the Consumption Commons

Like most developed countries in Europe and North America, Canada relies on Domestic Personal Consumption for 70% of its economy. A vigorous, consuming Middle class is vital to the prosperity of all Canadians. But this “labor disruption” is another example of the  Canadian Business laser-like focus on driving down labor costs regardless of consequences. True, it is only a very small set of workers and wages. However, given the existing nearly 7% unemployment rate in Canada and a contracting economy [once again the IMF downgraded Canada economic growth, this time from 2.2% to 1.5%] Canada can ill afford a business sector that is relentlessly cutting wages, benefits and jobs.

But even of greater concern is the Tsunami of new AI Automation that will be hitting developed economies over the next 5 years that will result in even more cutbacks in major job categories from train and truck driving, legal counsel, financial analysis, medical tests and interpretation, to story writing and project management. This next job cutting wave will effect white color workers as broadly and deeply as blue color jobs. Being able to secure a living wage is going to become ever more challenging. Worse, gaining a living wage without having to go into debt to get the education and  training  required is tough enough; but there is the added risk the jobs just trained for may disappear. This  is going to be the social and economic challenge of the next 20 years not just in Canada but throughout the World.

More worrisome is the fact that Canadian Business seems as oblivious and uncaring of the imminent jobs dangers as portions of the  Canadian media and government. Even  some of the public believes the punishing fiction that business markets are perfect and faultless allocators of wages and capital forgetting the recurring history of business triggered depression and financial turmoil, child labor and  draconian working conditions plus the passing of environmental costs onto the public. The libertarian ideal that the best government is less government is constantly at odds with harsh business reality of costs being passed onto governments, public and other businesses.

 

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