Vancouver airport workers threaten holiday strike

Tue Dec 1, 2009 7:59pm EST
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Unionized workers who sort baggage at the Vancouver International Airport warned on Tuesday they may walk off the job during the busy Christmas holiday season.

The 300 workers employed by Swissport have approved a strike mandate and talks over wages and job security are at an impasse, according to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union.

The union said the company's latest offer contained no pay increase for lower seniority workers who make up a majority of the workforce. "This offer is nothing short of crap," local union Chairman Todd Haverstock said in a statement.

The previous contract expired in September and the union and company are in a legal position to file 72-hour notice for a strike or lockout. No notice has yet been filed.

Swissport said its offer does include wage increases and was reasonable given current economic conditions and contract settlements elsewhere in the industry.

"Each Swissport base of operation, including Vancouver, must not create losses for the rest of the company. To meet the union's demands would put just such a strain on the Vancouver base," company said.

In addition to operating the airport's baggage sorting system, Swissport provides ground services to WestJet Airlines Ltd.

WestJet said it hopes the sides reach a settlement, but that it does have plans in place to prevent service disruptions, a spokesman said.

Vancouver is Canada's second-busiest airport and a portal for flights from Asia. Major tenants also include Air Canada, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Swissport is a unit of Europe's Ferrovial Group.

(Reporting by Nicole Mordant, Allan Dowd; Editing by Frank McGurty and Richard Chang)

<p>A jet coming into land is framed in the Olympic Rings along the road leading to the international airport in Vancouver, British Columbia March 5, 2009. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>