TORONTO, ON. – Drivers picking up or dropping off items at Vista Cargo Terminal are facing long delays due to a Swissport ground crew strike in its fourth day at Pearson International Airport.
More than 700 workers employed by Swissport and represented by Teamsters Local Union 419 walked off the job July 27 after contract negotiations broke down.
Swissport handles baggage, cargo, cabin cleaning, aircraft towing, and flight operations for 45 airlines, including 12 charter and cargo airlines such as UPS Canada, Nolinor Aviation, and Cathay Pacific Cargo.
Ruth Snowden, executive director of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA), says individual members reported backlogs of 20 to 30 minutes getting into the cargo terminal over the weekend, which increased to a delay of up to three hours on Monday morning.
One CIFFA member called the wait times “epic,” as union picketers stopped vehicles at both entrance gates to the cargo terminal. A line of vehicles was reported to extend back on to Airport Road in Mississauga, Ontario where police are monitoring the situation.
The delays at the entrance gates are also affecting those dropping off packages to carriers for export, and it’s recommended that those trying to make shipping deadlines add the delay time to their commutes and cut-off times.
In a statement Monday UPS Canada said it’s business as usual for its customers in the Greater Toronto Area, as all logistics for the company include contingency plans for situations like this.
UPS Canada’s ordinary routine includes using John C. Munro airport in Hamilton. However, the company says it will not be re-routing cargo destined for Pearson to that airport.
Although UPS is maintaining their operations are carrying on like normal, other importers are reporting chaotic delays in the processing of goods and packages.
CIFFA members reported inbound cargo that landed at Vista Terminal on the weekend was not processed, or was processed slowly, and delays meant some drivers had to leave and return to pick up packages at a later time, or wait up to three hours for pickup.
Harjinder Badial, vice-president of Teamsters Local Union 419, said the union spent weeks trying to avoid a strike, which may also include lost luggage and cancelled flights.
“We tried our best to reach an acceptable agreement with the company. Swissport just wasn’t interested,” he said. “Sadly, the company is insisting on forcing a bad deal on workers.”
Badial says the contract offered by Swissport included a three-year wage freeze for workers, and concerns about benefits and changes in work schedules.
Local 419 says hundreds of temporary summer workers hired by Swissport in the weeks before the strike are “strikebreakers” who are crossing picket lines and continuing to work until a deal is reached between the two sides.
Drivers and other workers for both UPS Canada and Purolator are also represented by the Teamsters through a different local, Teamsters Local Union 938. As of press time, there was no statement from that local about whether workers would cross the picket line at Pearson to pickup cargo and deliveries.
An earlier version of this story was updated to include comments from additional sources.
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