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Interview with a striking Porter Airlines worker

January 26, 2013

The 22 workers who fuel, service and clean the aircraft for Porter Airlines at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport are on strike for their first collective contract. One of the members of COPE local 343 (Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union) sat down with for an interview on the struggle for safety and a living wage at the Toronto Island Airport.
Can you tell me what this strike is all about?
At the heart of this strike, is the issue of safe working conditions. We have been working with dangerous chemicals that are unlabelled and some that have been mislabled. When we reported to management that their were fuel leaks, they told us to "just put a bucket under it." These are flagrant violations of health and safety standards and show a clear disregard for the conditions that we operate under. One of our demands has been a formal process for the reporting of safety concerns and a timetable for their implementation. We don't want to be told to "just get by" in dangerous working conditions. We are also seeking wages that are comparable with industry standards. The average income of those of us on strike is just above minimum wage.
 We were forced to go on strike when Porter refused to bargain in good faith. They refused to implement the basic requests for necessary safety equipment. The group of us that are on strike now are the only ones trained to fuel and transfer fuel at Billy Bishop airport. To keep the airport running without us, management and workers from other departments are fueling planes. These people don't have the training or practical experience that we do and that means the company is putting those people in danger and all the people flying on Porter Airlines in danger.
What was Porter's response to your attempt to organize?
Before becoming unionized we sent a letter out to management signed by the workers explaining that the high turnover rate (based on the low wages and unsafe conditions) and constantly being understaffed wasn’t an effective way to run our department. They did not come back with any adequate response as they felt that we were properly staffed at all time, which was definitely not the case. They have refused even our most basic requests. They seem to think that they can ignore our effeorts and force us to accept their terms. They have been able to keep the flights going out because they have brought guys in from other divisions within the company to do our jobs for the time being.
What are the working conditions at Porter like?
We were constantly understaffed for many years and the turnover rate was well over 120 percent. The fuel trucks always have multiple issues and leaks. They never get fixed. but just band-aided. Our requests for PPE (personal protective equipment) weren't properly implemented. We didn’t even have proper fuel resistant coveralls or gloves. The union had to bargain those two issues and the coveralls weren’t implemented until AFTER we went on strike.
What would you like to see happen and what is the outlook for the near future?
Porter took months to look over their books to send us an offer. That offer turned out to be the exact same they offered other employees in other divisions at Porter. One of our colleagues that was in the union got a promotion just before we went on strike (so he crossed the line). This person would’ve tipped the scales in our favour quite some. At the very least we want Porter to come back to the table and be reasonable as we aren’t asking for more than we deserve. We are ranked the 3rd best FBO in Canada and should be paid accordingly.
How can people show support for the workers there?
People should check out our Facebook group: FBO- Fighting for what is right and Twitter @occupyfbo which is a good place to stay up-to-date on news and developments. If people would follow on those links, we would really appreciate it. People have been launching a boycott and speaking out on Porter's Facebook page; customers have been letting Porter know that they want us to be treated fairly and safely and that has been very positive and effective. We also welcome all solidarity visits to our picket lines. We really appreciate getting support from people and we have  had some great visits from workers from Pearson Airport and we've been trying to reach out to other workers. People that want to come by and show support should come by our line at Bathurst and Queens Quay between 10am and 3pm, Monday to Friday.


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