Pearson workers at the vanguard of labour struggles this election

By Dan Janssen, Vice President IAMAW Local 2323

With the Federal election just around the corner, it is a very exciting time to be part of the labour movement in Canada. As a passionate and active union representative, a member of the Toronto Airport Workers Council, and a worker at Canada’s largest airport, I feel optimistic about the possibility of change in our government and in turn a real change for the workers at Pearson.

Workers at Pearson Airport protesting for $15/hour minimum wage.
Workers at Pearson Airport protesting for a $15/hour minimum wage.

We can’t deny that since the Conservatives have had a majority, some of the gains the labour movement have achieved for workers are being eroded. In Particular, at Pearson workers rights are being systematically dismantled with recent contract flipping. Workers are forced to accept wage and benefit cuts with seemingly little regard for the lives of the families affected in the process. And, astonishingly many of our co-workers make 10 to 20 percent below the poverty line. But there is hope.

We are seeing labour leaders come together under the umbrella of the workers council, to give workers a voice. Their voices are loud and clear, they want change. As of October 1, 2015 we will see a perfect example of what type of change must occur with the departure of a long standing company and it’s group of workers. Consolidated Aviation will no longer operate as the main fueler at YYZ. Those workers that have decided to stay on despite a major pay cut, reduced benefits and vacation time, will now work for Aviation Service International Group. Their years of service and experience are suddenly devoid of any value. This is worrisome and has many questioning their future at Pearson International. Many are asking who’s next in the race to bottom? Low wages and reduced benefits not only make it difficult to provide for a family, but also create a revolving door of employment. So far, we do not see a desire from the Airport Authority to create an environment where experience and knowledge is valued. Instead, what we see is corporate gains and profits put over people. With the upcoming Federal Election, we see an opportunity for this idea of change to become a reality.

I was inspired this week, when at a meeting to discuss the upcoming election, I found myself at a table with 16 other union leaders. Together we easily represented half of Pearson’s 40,000 workers, and nearly three-quarters of the airport’s unionized staff. Each union had their own political action committee and each was engaged and committed to seeing their members get out to vote on election day. An October 8 rally at noon in Pearson’s Terminal 1, is one of the upcoming events organized to spark awareness about the importance of voting as a tool of change. Robyn Benson, President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) is the main speaker and will discussing a variety of subjects, including the effects of cuts to federal public service. There is also a plan to hold a mock election to educate workers about voting procedure, and leafleting dates to inform workers about each of the federal parties’ stances on the top election issues.

Pearson workers marching against the contracting out of services. Photo credit: James Tayor

It is imperative that different unions come together and discuss issues. Just like our local Labour Council meetings, we become stronger by sharing the struggles of our members with other unions. Of course, what we end up realizing is that our issues are not unique. At the airport, those struggles include constant threat of a job loss, stagnant wages, sporadic scheduling, working in inclement weather, forced overtime, pressure to meet on time targets, fair treatment from management, health and safety issues, and pollution in our work environment, that’s just to name a few. Understanding that workers at Pearson deserve better is a driving force for change.

At Pearson we’ve have seen it all. Check-in staff standing shoulder to shoulder, fighting for a better contract. Baggage handlers legislated back to work at the eleventh hour, taking away their right to strike. We have seen workers marching together at this airport for a living wage. Screeners coming together, working to rule to push for seniority rights. Mechanics standing their ground for better working conditions. Wildcat strikes have seen workers walking out in support of their co-workers. One of them occurring after a “slow clap” to the former Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt. We have also seen countless accidents and injuries to our coworkers, some minor and others more serious. The worst resulting in a death of a station attendant out on the ramp. We have won and lost some labour battles, moving forward working together we will only build strength through solidarity.

Ultimately, the labour movement is alive and well at Pearson. We are fighting hard for better working conditions, a $15 dollar living wage, succession rights to protect against contract flipping, a positive safety culture, and overall worker power. We hope to be an example to the broader labour movement this election.

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