Occupy YYZ: Pearson parking lot workers fight back

Saturday
Workers blockade entrance to Pearson airport parking lot

By James Taylor

Workers at Impark followed up their April 30 wildcat strike at Pearson Airport with a blockade on Saturday, May 24. Around 75 workers and their supporters blocked the main parking entrance at Terminal 1 and shut down the terminal departures roadway.

Members of Unifor local 2002 lost their jobs with Impark when Vinci Park took over the parking contract with the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) on May 1. At this point, the dispute rests around severance and termination pay from Vinci.

Only 27 of the 80 members were re-hired by Vinci Park. Those rehired were offered no benefits and some faced wage cuts of up to 20 per cent with wages as low as $11.75 an hour. They worked as cashiers, customer service representatives, valet drivers and dispatch monitors.

the job ‘is a kind of modern way of slavery, the companies they buy and sell us.’

Silevria Ahluwalia has worked parking at Pearson for three different companies for the past 16 years.  Ahluwalia noted the job “is a kind of modern way of slavery, the companies, they buy and sell us.”

Each time the GTAA signed a contract with a new company, the same workers were mostly rehired. With that in mind, Silevria said, “we all applied but at the last moment I found out there was no job for me. I’m at an age to retire. For people at this age it’s so hard to find work.”

Parking lot workers wildcat on April 30
Parking lot workers wildcat on April 30

Silevria first worked for Airport Group Canada, which was unionized with the Canadian Auto Workers, then Ideal Parking, and finally for Impark. Ideal Parking rehired the group and then a few months later fired 26 workers. They were never able to reorganize a union until Impark won the contract in 2008.  While Impark did not rehire all of the workers from Ideal Parking, once the workers organized, they were able to negotiate a place for those workers.

Vinci not only took a hard line on rehiring but also refused severance and termination pay. Upon hearing this news, workers began a wildcat strike in the afternoon of April 30.

Vinci not only took a hard line on rehiring but also refused severance and termination pay. Upon hearing this news workers began a wildcat strike in the afternoon of April 30. Workers gathered in the lunch room and proceeded to sit down by the main parking counter. They stayed at the counter until around 11:00pm that night when Vinci made a commitment in writing to pay severance.

Workers are currently demanding Vinci pay the remaining termination pay. There has been no further movement from the company and the GTAA has so far balked at getting involved. Silevria insists that the GTAA has a significant role to play in this dispute saying, “the GTAA is responsible for the terminal. They chose the contracts.”

Saturday 1The multinational Vinci Park has moved aggressively into North American parking facilities. Their French parent company, Vinci, is the largest construction firm in Europe and Vinci Park generated over 1 billion dollars in revenue in 2012. Termination pay for the workers at Pearson would cost around $175,000.

Unit chair Abdullahi Barre has committed to ramping up the pressure on the GTAA and Vinci Park.  Monday they picketed the main road and valet services at terminal 1 with supporters from local 2002. Workers from Unifor local 973 were also out to return the solidarity shown by airport workers during their 2013 strike at Coca-Cola. More actions are planned for the coming weeks.

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