More than 700 airport workers employed by Swissport Canada Handling at Toronto Pearson International Airport walked off the job last week in a dispute over benefits, a pay freeze and volatile schedules.

The employees, who perform flight operations, handle baggage, tow planes and clean cabins, are striking due to a number of claims Swissport’s management refuses to discuss, according to their union, Teamsters Local 419.

One of the issues is the company requiring employees to work a minimum of 30 hours per week in order to qualify for full health benefits. The union notes the workers’ drug, health and dental coverage shouldn’t depend on volatile weekly schedules.

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“Under our proposal, the majority of employees would not be impacted by the benefits eligibility criteria, . . .” wrote Pierre Payette, vice-president of operations for Toronto at Swissport, in an email to Benefits Canada. “In fact, more employees would experience an increase to their benefits coverage.”

Other issues include a three-year wage freeze for most workers and a policy whereby the company can change an employee’s schedule as long as it does so with 96 hours’ notice.

“We tried our best to reach an acceptable agreement with the company. Swissport just wasn’t interested,” said Harjinder Badial, vice-president of Teamsters Local 419, in a news release.

Payette calls the union’s objection to the notice period “surprising,” since it’s an increase from the previously held 72 hours, in response to the union’s request. “This change was mutually agreed upon,” said Payette, adding “the shift change cannot vary more than two hours from the original shift time.”

As to the wage freeze, “our proposal includes pay increases for everyone,” said Payette, noting 71 per cent of employees would receive an increase of 9.5 per cent to their average base wage in the first year, with an average 2.7 per cent increase in the second and third year.

The union also stresses the dangers of bringing in temporary workers to cover striking staff in a sensitive environment like an airport. “We have no idea how Pearson will be able to operate safely and normally with this crew,” said Badial.

“Our management team is actively engaged in the onboarding of all workers. The process includes standardized safety and job-specific training that is mandatory for anyone working for or on behalf of the company,” said Payette.

Read: Brampton autoworkers’ strike leads to increased wages but no gains in benefits

Editor’s note: This story was updated Aug. 1 at 3 p.m. to include comments from Swissport.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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