Air Canada ground crews stage strike in Toronto

AP News
Posted: Mar 23, 2012 2:21 AM
Air Canada ground crews stage strike in Toronto

Air Canada baggage handlers staged a walkout at Toronto's Pearson International Airport early Friday, causing some flights to be delayed.

Hundreds of passengers were left in limbo after they had to get off several flights that were already on the tarmac. They were forced to return back to the terminal.

Some passengers began to reboard planes after management took over some of the baggage handling duties and some delayed flights were able to leave the airport.

But many passengers on connecting flights had decided to leave the airport, choosing to stay in local hotels for the night.

Some passengers had said they had no idea where their luggage was, or how they were going to get to their destinations. One passenger described the situation at the airport as "a zoo."

The Canadian government recently passed legislation banning strikes or lockouts at Air Canada, arguing the move was needed to protect the economy.

Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said that there had been an "illegal job action" by a small number of ground crew workers.

Various media reports say about 150 workers are involved in the walkout.

Another Air Canada spokesman, Peter Fitzpatrick, said the job action did not result in any cancellations, although the airport website had displayed seven Air Canada flight delays. Six were to Canadian destinations _ St. John's, Newfoundland; Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Vancouver, British Columbia _ and one international flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

The sudden work stoppage caused confusion and anger among passengers.

Aaron Huizing was heading back to his home in Ottawa, Ontario, from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, when the walkout began.

Gate crews told him and other connecting passengers they would be given hotel rooms for the night, but that was cold comfort when they discovered hundreds of other people vying for a place to sleep.

"There's a three-hour lineup to get a hotel," said Huizing. "There'll surely be just as long a wait once we get to the hotel. At this rate we won't get to sleep until morning anyway."

Other passengers were worried about what the job action will mean for their families.

"We've got people taking care of our kids back home who have to go to work in the morning," said Ryan Tuck, who was also on a connecting flight from Los Angeles bound for Ottawa.

There was no immediate sign that federal Labor Minister Lisa Raitt would intervene in the dispute.

Earlier Thursday, angry Air Canada workers rallied in front of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's constituency office in Calgary to send him what they called a symbolic message.

Air Canada has been plagued with labor troubles over the last year.

The airline and its pilots and mechanics have been in a bitter contract feud that prompted the government to step in earlier this month.

Raitt insisted the government had to act to protect the national economy.

The government also had to intervene in contract disputes involving the airline's flight attendants and its customer service agents.