Labour strife threatens Olympics

Several unions say strikes are imminent
By Lorna Harris
||Last Updated: 01/29/2010

The governments of British Columbia and several municipalities worked very hard a couple of years ago to finalize longer collective agreements that spanned the upcoming Winter Olympics. Their goal was to avoid labour disputes. It now appears as though only part of the job was done.

Hertz Rental Car employees in Vancouver, British Columbia have voted unanimously in favour of strike action, which could begin in January if mediation fails. The Canadian Office and Professional Employees, Local 378 represents the workers, who are facing “major job concessions, zero wage increases, and the replacement of full time positions with part time workers,” according to union president Andy Ross. They work at the Vancouver International Airport and at locations in downtown Vancouver.

If they walk off the job, they could join members of the Canadian Auto Workers Local 141 who have voted by 91 per cent to strike at Pacific Coach Lines. With mediation having failed, the CAW and the company are in conflict over contracting out, wages, benefits and pension contributions for the 127 drivers, mechanics and service staff. They have been without a contract since last March. The company has an exclusive contract to provide transportation from Vancouver to Whistler during the Olympics.

In addition, about 300 baggage handlers represented by the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 16 have voted by 94 per cent to go on strike against Swissport. The company provides baggage handling and equipment maintenance for Continental Airlines and WestJet at the Vancouver International Airport. According to the union, the company’s final offer included “no wage increases for employees on the first four steps of the pay scale or with less than two years of service. For other workers, the average increase amounts to “slightly over one per cent per year over a three-year agreement.”

If these disputes lead to strikes, they would add to the job action threatened at the Hastings Racetrack, the on-going strike at HandyDart and the BC paramedics’ protests.

Two contracts between Hospitality Industrial Relations and the Canadian Auto Workers and UNITE HERE for B.C. hotels have expired with no settlements yet. They involve nearly 2,500 employees.

And, negotiations have not been complete between Air Canada Jazz and two unions representing flight attendants and customer service staff.

Calendars of expiring agreements don’t disclose any other large or crucial agreements set to expire that could pose serious problems for the Games. But there is no guarantee that a smaller dispute could not create a bottleneck with greater consequences.

With files from Gordon Sova

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