By Ted Turner
On strike since January 10 for a first collective agreement, workers represented by COPE Local 343 and employed by Porter FBO to refuel aircraft at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) are facing a union busting Bay Street corporate agenda.
It is telling that the largest institutional investor in Porter Aviation Holdings Inc. is OMERS Strategic Investments, the venture capital arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) the pension plan of municipal workers in Ontario with $60 billion in assets.
Pushed to walk the line by health and safety concerns, poverty wages and a high worker turnover rate these workers have shown a strong resolve to fight back.
The employer, actively supported by the federal government appointed Toronto Port Authority (formerly the Toronto Harbour Commission), has responded by using poorly trained scabs, company media spin and aggressive policing by the Toronto police force and the infamous G4S international private security corporation.
On April 10, following days of media speculation fueled by full page advertisements in the corporate press, Porter Airlines announced it had signed a conditional purchase order for 12 CS100 jet aircraft manufactured by Bombardier with options for an additional 18 of the same aircraft.
There is no significant direct benefit to Toronto as the jets’ and their engines are assembled in Quebec, the fuselages are built in China, and the wings in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
These “whisper” jets are advertised as being, “4 times quieter than its competitors” and “greener”.
However, the fine print in the full page newspaper ads reads: “All specifications and data are approximate, may change without notice and are subject to certain operating rules, assumptions and other conditions.”
Porter also announced that it would be asking for two amendments to the 1983 Tripartite Agreement that governs YTZ.
The two amendments are: permission to operate jet aircraft at YTZ and a 168 meter extension into the Toronto Harbour at each end of the existing main runway.
The three parties to the Tripartite Agreement are: the City of Toronto, the Toronto Port Authority (TPA) and the Canadian federal government.
Porter’s plan to amend the Tripartite Agreement will re-open the contentious and controversial debate from years ago about the Toronto Island Airport when large commercial passenger turboprop aircraft were allowed to be used.
People opposed to this expansion warned that it was a “slippery slope” and that it would be followed by a request for jet aircraft.
Only the City of Toronto Council stands in the way of this latest planned expansion and it will likely be a major issue in the 2014 municipal election.
On April 12, ruling in an application by the TPA, an Ontario Superior Court judge issued an interim injunction against COPE, COPE Local 343, various named COPE staff and “persons presently unidentified.”
A clause in the injunction prohibits these people from, “engaging in any activities which may degrade passenger experience” by the use of loudspeakers, bullhorns, drums, whistle, etc.
On April 17 Toronto media reported that Porter Airlines had filed a lawsuit seeking $4 million in damages naming COPE Local 343 and its strike co-ordinator Mary Stalteri as defendants for comments made on “Twitter.”
And where are the 22 refuelers in all this?
They continue to show strong determination to gain a collective agreement which reflects their value and the value of the work they do.
Organized labour and community groups have provided invaluable financial and morale boosting support.
But much more needs to be done.
This is a winnable strike.
It cannot be “business as usual” at YTZ.
Ted is retired member of CUPE and involved in the Palestinian Human Rights struggle.