As we have learned in our industrial relations studies, taking strike action is a decision made by the members of a bargaining unit in order to send a very strong message to the employer. This message is usually clear about the lack of progress at, or acceptance of proposals from the negotiating table. Taking strike action is not something that unions do lightly. It is a strong tactic, used for leverage in order to influence the employer to do better at the table. The message is simple and clear, the employees will not work until the issues that are unresolved through the bargaining process are settled and a new contract is proposed between the parties.
The power of a strike lies in the lack of employee labour, which means that the employer’s levels of production would be impacted in a negative way. No work should mean no production and no output.
What happens, however, when the union goes on strike and the work continues? This scenario is playing out with the ground crew workers who work at Toronto Pearson International Airport. These workers are employees of Swissport. They are represented by the Teamster’s union (Local 419) and they went on strike in late July. The work, however, is continuing.
The duties that are usually done by ground crew workers are now being done by management or supervisory staff which has raised the risk of safety issues, specifically linked to the duties of load controllers.
As noted in the article, the few supervisors who have taken on the duties of specialized load controllers are working around the clock to ensure that customer flights are not impacted negatively. This arrangement, however, raises some significant risk concerns not only for the safety of airline crew and passengers, but also for the supervisors who have taken on multiple additional workloads. The leverage played out in this scenario does not seem to be enough to cause the employer to amend its position at the bargaining table. One wonders, however, how much of a risk the employer is willing to take before safe airline travel comes to an unfortunate stop?
- The article describes supervisors taking over the duties of specialized workers during this strike. From a Human Resources perspective, what types of employment-related concerns does this raise?
- In your opinion, how much of a risk would you be willing to take in order to keep airplanes and the paying customer moving?
- What issues need to be settled in order for this dispute to be resolved?