Workers at Pearson Airport are demanding an end to the controversial practice of contract-flipping,
“You put us on the street. Why?” “Why should I take an $8 pay cut?” “Why do you avoid us all the time?” Those were the questions hurled at airport executive Howard Eng Thursday morning, following a heated encounter with Pearson workers in a windswept parking lot where the 401and 427 meet.
A group of employees representing de-icers, parking attendants and baggage handlers at Pearson presented the head of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) with a list of demands to end the practice of contract-flipping, which they say is causing widespread job insecurity and safety issues at the airport.
The demands include a town hall for workers to air grievances about the practice and a job fair for those out of work because of it.
“At least now he knows our requests,” said Abdullahi Barre, a former parking attendant at Pearson who lost his job last year when the contract for the service changed hands.
“Why are they hiring cheap companies and squeezing employees all the time?”
Critics say contract-flipping, which involves subcontracting out services and changing providers every few years, is a way to shed employees, cut pay and keep entitlements low.
Every time a contract for an airport service flips, workers are then forced to reapply for their job with a new company — often with significant wage cuts and reduced entitlements.
The group of about 25 Pearson workers confronted Eng as he left a meeting with GTAA employees Thursday. Eng did not respond to the barrage of questions as he walked through the parking to his offices.
In an emailed statement to the Star, a spokesperson for the GTAA said each company operating at the airport had “their own unique labour needs and employee agreements.” April 2014: Airport parking attendants launch a wildcat strike after about 80 employees of Impark lost their jobs when the contract was flipped to Vinci. April 2015: The Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) announces it will take over Servisair’s de-icing contract, resulting in about 100 full-
“The GTAA does not get involved in the negotiations between other companies operating at Toronto Pearson and their respective employees,” the statement added.
The Star has previously highlighted the damaging effects of contract flip- time workers being laid off. About 25 have been rehired into full-time jobs by the GTAA so far, according to the Teamsters Union. May 2015: Swissport loses its customer-assistance program contract to Toronto Ground Airport Services, resulting in 282 job losses. About 250 were rehired. ping on workers’ wages and benefits, as well as on public safety.
But under Canada’s federal labour laws, which govern sectors such as air transport, the practice is entirely legal.
In an emailed statement to the Star May 2015: Air Canada joins a group of airlines changing their fuelling contract from Allied Aviation to Aircraft Service International Group (ASIG). International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union that used to represent refuellers, says 45 out of 190 of its members at Pearson were rehired by ASIG. during the recent federal election campaign, the Liberal party said it was “ready to study, and if necessary, fix any loophole in the Canada Labour Code that might leave Canadian workers vulnerable.”
In the United Kingdom, contract flipping is already illegal. When a service provider changes, workers keep their jobs and their unions unless employers can prove the nature of the work is radically different.
A recent labour board ruling south of the border indicates the United States could soon head in the same direction.
Deena Ladd of the Toronto-based Worker’s Action Centre said employers like the GTAA should take responsibility for the roughly 40,000 workers at the airport, even if many airport services are performed by subcontractors.
“I think we need to ensure that the GTAA remains liable for the working conditions and any violation that happens because they’re the ones that have chosen the contractor,” she said.