Dozens of unionized workers staged a labour demonstration Friday at the Richardson International Airport to draw attention to the possibility of a strike as early as next weekend.
The colourful noon-hour display featured union workers pacing back and forth outside doors of the Winnipeg airport’s departures platform, waving flags, holding picket signs and blowing whistles.
Pickets parted for departing travellers, with one elderly couple offering a friendly wave as they walked through a gap in the line to get to the airport’s parkade.
'We'd prefer not to strike. We'd prefer to have a contract, but we don't feel the employer is bargaining fairly'-- Teresa Eschuk, regional vice-president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees
Both sides say essential service agreements are in place, so the travelling public will likely notice little change if mediation fails.
The strike deadline is one minute after midnight July 22.
"This isn’t about money at this point. This is about contracting out and saving their jobs," said Teresa Eschuk, regional vice-president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, an arm of the federal union for civil service, the 170,000-member Public Service Alliance.
Union and airport management sat down with a federal mediator Monday in final effort to settle the dispute.
"We’re entering into mediation, the last stage, on (Monday) and we’re prepared to be there all week and into the late hours on the weekend, if we have to," Eschuk said.
"We’d prefer not to strike. We’d prefer to have a contract, but we don’t feel the employer is bargaining fairly."
Winnipeg Airport Authority spokesman Tyler MacAfee confirmed agreements are in place for essential services and said management hopes a deal can be struck before the strike deadline.
"We’re continuing to talk and we’re happy to talk with the union and we respect the (bargaining) process," he said.
The union insists the airport is trying to contract out jobs, which they say includes about 150 posts (duty managers, administrative support staff, tradespeople, IT workers, airfield maintenance and labourers).
Union officials contend the authority has systematically contracted-out union jobs since the new airport opened in 2011.
However, MacAfee said the dispute is not about contracting out jobs and denied such a campaign has occurred.
"That’s really a key point and that’s inaccurate information they’re providing," he said, adding the number of union jobs has increased as the facility’s number of overall employees rose.
"It’s working the other way," MacAfee said.
Union officials countered, saying they have grievances against management to prove otherwise.
The Winnipeg airport employs about 1,500 people. Management did not provide a breakdown on what percentage are unionized.