‘Contract flip’ at Montreal airport will wipe out hundreds of unionized jobs and lead to chaos, union says

A traveler at Montreal airport.  Swissport, a company providing ground handling services at the airport, was not awarded a contract and will cease operations there in the summer of 2023.  (Ivanoh Demers/CBC/Radio-Canada - photo credit)

A traveler at Montreal airport. Swissport, a company providing ground handling services at the airport, was not awarded a contract and will cease operations there in the summer of 2023. (Ivanoh Demers/CBC/Radio-Canada – photo credit)

Two unions are criticizing a “contract change” at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport which they say will result in hundreds of unionized workers losing their jobs and could cause widespread chaos at the airport.

Earlier this month, Aéroports de Montréal (ADM), the agency that oversees Montreal Airport, said a committee of airline representatives had selected three companies to provide groundhandling services at the airport.

Ground handling includes customer service, loading and unloading of customer baggage, cargo and cargo, and aircraft fueling, among other key services.

The committee selected two new companies: Menzies Aviation and Samsic Assistance, which currently do not offer ground handling services at the airport. It renewed the contract of TSAS, a subsidiary of Avjet.

Swissport, which currently provides ground handling at Montreal Airport, was not selected.

Two unions, Unifor and the International Federation of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, IAMAW, condemned the decision to license the two new companies, saying the end of the Swissport agreement would result in the loss of unionized jobs.

Swissport CEO Charles Roberge said in an interview that the contract loss at Montreal Airport would result in 195 job cuts.

Peter Tsoukalas, general chairman of IAMAW District 140, said neither Menzies nor Samsic employ unionized workers. CBC has requested comment from the two companies but has not yet received a response.

Unifor said in a statement the move will put up to 150 Unifor members out of work by the end of June.

Tsoukalas said 175 of IAMAW’s unionized members have been notified that their jobs will be closed as of June 1.

Many of them, Tsoukalas said, may have to reapply to the new groundhandling companies to find work, where they are likely to receive lower wages and lose benefits and seniority they previously had as union members.

The timing could cause travel issues over the summer holidays

The contract change, as Tsoulakas called the move, which takes effect in late spring or early summer, is also likely to add to problems as the airport is already struggling with staffing shortages, he said.

The treaty changes drew the attention of opposition politicians in Ottawa.

“Montreal Airport’s lack of respect for these unionized workers is disgusting and unacceptable. We all need to stand up for workers’ rights and better working conditions,” said Alexandre Boulerice, the NDP labor critic, in a joint media release with IAMAW.

Bloc Québécois MP Louise Chabot also condemned the treaty changes.

“The Bloc Québécois strongly condemns this practice, which denies workers’ fundamental rights,” she said in the same media release.

ADM said in a statement the decision was made to “optimize operational performance, improve operational safety and environmental performance of ground handlers.”

“The issuance of ground handling licenses will help to better manage ground handling at YUL, which plays a significant role in the quality of services offered to passengers,” the airport authority said in its statement.

The newly selected companies can start operations from April 1st. Current ground handlers that have not been selected, such as Swissport, can operate until June 30, ADM said, “or even request an extension until the end of the transition period October 28, 2023.”

But John Gradek, an associate professor at McGill University and academic coordinator of the university’s supply chain, logistics, operations and aviation management program, said he was concerned April 1, 2023 was too early a start date for the acquisition by a new one Companies will be going through the complex work of ground handling at Montreal Airport.

“Both [new] Companies are experienced when it comes to ground handling contracts. I’m not criticizing the company, I’m just concerned,” he said.

“You have to hire people. You need to make sure people are trained and have the experience they need to efficiently handle the operations that will come their way.”

The peak travel season begins in mid-May, Gradek said, leaving little time for new contractors to prepare for the onslaught.

Last summer, Gradek said a similar lack of experience had caused delays at airports across the country.

“I don’t think Montrealers want to go through the same level of anxiety this coming summer as they did last summer,” he said.

ADM said the contract change will affect ground handling services for airlines that do not have their own ground handling services. Air Canada, Delta, American Airlines and Air Creebec are not affected as they have their own ground service providers and Air Transat was already operating with TSAS.

“All in all, these companies represent more than 80 percent of YUL’s air services,” said an ADM spokesman.


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