Air Canada wildcat strikers return to work

Fri Mar 23, 2012 1:45pm EDT
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By Allison Martell and Susan Taylor

TORONTO (Reuters) - Wildcat strikes that disrupted dozens of Air Canada flights ended on Friday when ground crews at airports in Toronto and Montreal returned to work, their union said on Friday, in a fresh reminder of the airline's tense labor relations.

The strikes were triggered Thursday evening when Canada's largest air carrier suspended three ground workers in Toronto allegedly for clapping derisively at Canada's labor minister as she walked through Pearson International Airport. The impromptu work stoppage later spread to baggage handlers at Montreal's Trudeau International Airport.

The minister has become the public face of the Conservative government's efforts to prevent any disruption of Air Canada service because of disputes between the airline and its unions. Ottawa maintains that any work stoppage would harm Canadians and hold back a still-recovering economy.

Earlier this month the government enacted a law sending the airline's separate disputes with the machinists and its pilots to binding arbitration. That prevents the machinists from carrying out a strike threat, and the airline from possibly locking out the pilots.

Under the circumstances, said George Smith, a Queen's University labor relations expert and former Air Canada executive, the airline could face more disruptions.

"I also see it happening in more subtle ways until things are resolved - employees can work to rule, they can not work overtime," Smith said.

Airport operations are returning to normal, said Air Canada, which does not expect further disruption.

"We have the injunction now and we would expect that it will be obeyed and there's not going to be any more issues like that," said spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick.   Continued...

Air Canada travellers wait at the check-in area as baggage handlers at Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport walked off the job, causing cancellations and delay, in Montreal March 23, 2012. REUTERS/Olivier Jean