Transat Baggage Handlers Threaten Walkout in Toronto

Nearly 200 Air Transat baggage handlers could be on strike at Pearson airport starting Friday morning.

But neither union nor management expect major service delays if a walkout occurs.

The workers of Montreal-based Transat A.T. Inc.'s Handlex serve vacation charter airline Air Transat and about 20 other airlines, including UPS, Air France and KLM, according to union officials.

The key issues are wages and overtime. Talks continue with a strike deadline set for 9: 30 a.m. Friday.

If there is a walkout it could affect thousands of travellers this weekend. From tomorrow through Monday, Air Transat has 30 flights scheduled to leave Pearson. Air Transat flies to more than 90 destinations, though in winter months the majority of flights are to Caribbean and U.S. destinations.

If the handlers walk off the job, it would be the second strike in as many years at Pearson. In 2004, Teamsters Local 419 also struck over wage issues.

That strike lasted a week, according to Local 419 president Tom Fraser, and at one point about 25 company managers from Montreal and Toronto stepped in to do the work. At the time, a Transat A.T. spokesperson said there were no service disruptions. The company again predicts "normal operations," but would not say what contingency plan is in place.

"It's a growing company. They seem to be doing very well. (The workers) are starting at $10 an hour. The average wage for handlers is about $11.40," said Local 419 vice-president Brian Lawrence.

Lawrence added that a proposed three-year contract calls for a 3 per cent wage increase, but handlers want 5 or 6 per cent.

Another concern among union members is that language in the proposed three-year contract could lead to handlers working overtime hours without overtime pay, Lawrence said.

In Toronto, the union represents about 185 baggage handlers working for Handlex and another Teamsters local represents 145 working in Montreal. They, too, are prepared to go on strike Friday morning, Fraser said. A spokesperson for the Montreal local could not be reached yesterday.

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