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Labour board orders union back to table as Montreal airport refuellers’ strike continues

Montreal airport refuellers walk off the job
WATCH: Workers at Swissport, the company responsible for refueling planes at Montreal Trudeau and Mirabel airports, went on strike Tuesday morning. Officials are warning there could be delays but as Global’s Dan Spector reports, workers say they had no choice.

The workers in charge of refuelling planes at Montreal’s Trudeau and Mirabel airports officially went on strike as of 11 a.m. on New Year’s Eve day.

The nearly 100 unionized workers with Swissport Canada are holding a walkout after rejecting a new contract agreement with their employer last week.

“No money, no fuel,” the striking workers chanted outside the Montreal Trudeau airport.

A spokesperson for Swissport Canada confirmed negotiations between the two sides have not been successful, but said the company has a contingency plan in place to ensure service in the event of a strike.

“We want to reassure the travelling public and our customers that we have the properly trained resources in place to continue refueling activities in line with federal regulations,” said spokesperson Nathalie Bergeron in a written statement.

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Peter Tsoukalas, president of the local union of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said his members fuelled all the planes at Montreal-Trudeau before hitting the picket lines.

“We tried to help the population by making sure all the planes were filled before we launched the strike,” Tsoukalas said Tuesday.

However, the airport authority is warning of possible delays at the city’s main airport, Montreal-Trudeau International.

Swissport Canada is the only supplier of fuel for airlines operating out of Trudeau and Mirabel airports.

The employees — which include refuelling personnel, machinists, dispatchers, mechanics and maintenance workers — have been without a contract since August. They voted 99 per cent in favour of a strike last week.

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The main sticking points are salaries and work-life balance.

Mario Beauchemin has been working as a refueller for 20 years. He says when Swissport took over in 2015, he lost a third of his salary.

“What they offered us brought me back to where I was in 2015, but we’re in 2019,” he said. “It’s still not good enough.”

READ MORE: Montreal airport refuellers vote in favour of New Year’s Day strike

Beauchemin also says the job has become much more stressful because there are less people to do the work.

“Before we were close to 100 fuellers and the turnaround was two to three guys a year. Now we’re mid-60s to do the same job with more flights, more volume, more everything,” he said.

The company is accusing the union of not bargaining in good faith, following the rejection of an agreement in principle on Friday.

“Whether long-tenured employees or new hires, we believe in treating all employees fairly and with respect. Our proposal included compensation increases for all employees that met the majority of the union’s demands,” Bergeron said.

It filed a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board, asking that the union lose its right to strike.

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The board released its decision on the matter Tuesday afternoon.

While it agreed with Swissport that the union did not bargain in good faith it will not revoke the employees right to strike. It also demands the two sides get back to the bargaining table immediately.

For its part, the union says it will continue its strike.

“We’ll be back on the picket lines in Montreal and Mirabel tomorrow morning,” union spokesperson Michel Richer told The Canadian Press after the labour board ruling came down.

Meanwhile, Minister of Labour Filomena Tassi issued a statement expressing her disappointment that the parties have been unable to resolve their differences.

She encouraged them to continue their efforts to reach a negotiated settlement, saying the federal government has faith in the collective bargaining process.

“The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has been working closely with the parties since October to help them reach an agreement and will remain available to assist them,” the statement reads.

While the statement doesn’t mention any plans to intervene in the dispute, Tassi says the situation is being closely monitored.

— With files from Global News’ Dan Spector and The Canadian Press

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