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Airport Commissionaires Hope to Avoid, But are Ready to Strike

by Miles Howe

Members of PSAC local 851000, employed by Commissionaires Nova Scotia (CNS) at the Halifax International Airport, today undertook an afternoon information picket. The 175 member local has voted 90% to strike, rejecting the CNS's final offer of January 19th, 2012.

There are significant issues in the latest offer from CNS that Miles States, president of the local, notes that his membership cannot accept.

The most glaring issue is that CNS is not adhering to the federal labour code. The Federal Court of Canada has unanimously agreed that the Halifax Airport is a federally-regulated place of work, not a provincially-regulated one, and therefore that the Commissionaires are entitled to retroactive overtime and statutory holiday pay, as they are privy to the less stringent federal regulations. The amount of back-pay owed to the Airport Commissionaires is approximately $1 million, but CNS is unwilling to include this sum in the contract offer, and indeed continues to appeal the Federal Court decision within the legal system. 

“The employer is now challenging the Crouse decision (named after David Crouse, who initially launched the appeal) and is going to go to Supreme Court," says Jeannie Baldwin, Regional Executive Vice-President, Atlantic, of PSAC. "What we're finding is that the employers always have money to fight with us, and the money that they're using now to take it to Supreme Court, they could have paid the workers their retroactivity."

“They want our members to give up our legal rights to have that decision upheld," agrees Miles States, president of local 851000. "They're intimidating my members in order to accept a final offer that has that in it...They don't have that right to do that.”

This puts the local in a difficult position, as it would be in effect bargaining away the minimums of the federal labour code, in order to obtain a contract to work at a federally-regulated workplace.

There is also a degree of confusion regarding the wording of the contract on offer, in particular as it refers to management rights. Members of local 851000 are employed by CNS, and their workplace is the Halifax International Airport. Yet while the Airport is not the employer, according to representatives from the local the wording of the contract gives the Airport too much authority over the Commissionaires. There have in fact been allegations made that at least one individual has been in effect dismissed from their position by representatives of the Airport, and that CNS "signed off on it". If indeed CNS is the employer, this suggests an overstepping of boundaries in management, or at the very least an unclear "chain of command". 

Baldwin and States agree that this vague management practice is linked to a larger picture of disrespect on the part of the CNS towards the local. Many Commissionaires are veterans of military service, some making all of $11.53 per hour.

"This employer has no idea of what respect and dignity is," says Baldwin. "That's what we're trying to do in this collective agreement...to negotiate an agreement that respects what we do and the service we provide to the clients at the Halifax International Airport."

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Commissionnaires subject to management dispute

Thanks for this article and wonderful photos. The main media would likely call this a potential "labour dispute". But the facts clearly indicate that it is management's outrageous and abusive demands that are causing the commissionaires to protest.  Just because management is tucked out of sight in their offices, it doesn't mean that they are not causing the problems. And just because the workers refuse to surrender doesn't make them the bad guys.

If a neighbourhood's residents were protesting a rash of break-and-enters, would the media call it a residents dispute? Or would they call it a crime story?




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