By Allison Martell
TORONTO (Reuters) - A sudden labor disruption by workers who refuel planes at Toronto's main airport caused flight delays and cancellations on Friday, said the union that represents the workers, as the city prepared for the start of the Pan American Games on July 10.
In a bulletin posted online, Pearson International Airport said a labor dispute could disrupt flights.
By 1:20 p.m., its website showed 45 canceled departures and more than 70 delays affecting a range of airlines. It was not clear how many were routine, and how many were caused by the dispute.
International Association of Machinists spokesman Bill Trbovich said members of Lodge 2413, employees of Consolidated Aviation Fueling, were calling in sick in large numbers, but the union had not sanctioned the job action.
Many of the canceled flights were those operated by Air Canada, the airport's biggest user. But rival WestJet Airlines Ltd said the dispute had led to two cancellations as well as "lengthy delays."
"Union members are calling in sick and as a result, there are fewer staff at work today and it is taking much longer to have our aircraft refueled," said WestJet spokesman Robert Palmer in an email.
IAM's Trbovich said some 30 of the 47 workers due in on Friday morning called in sick. Of the 56 scheduled to work in the afternoon, at least 27 have called in sick. He said union leaders were hoping to meet with their employer.
Some 250 employees of Consolidated Aviation Fueling are set to lose their jobs in the autumn as Air Canada and other airlines switch fuel providers, he said.
"This is not a labor disruption between the airlines and their fueling company," said Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick. "This is a labor disruption at Consolidated Aviation Fueling Services which is affecting all airlines at Pearson."
Air Canada is switching its Toronto and Montreal fuel providers from Consolidated Aviation to ASIG in Toronto, effective Oct. 1, and to Swissport in Montreal, effective July 1.
Consolidated Aviation, owned by closely held Allied Aviation, could not be reached for comment.
The Pan Am Games are expected to draw 250,000 visitors and 10,000 athletes to Toronto and the surrounding area.
(Additional reporting by Susan Taylor in Toronto; Editing by Phil Berlowitz, Bernard Orr)