Bluffs Advocate

Striking Porter workers urge boycott of the airline

Porter’s shameful treatment of the refueling workers sparks outrage

By Paul Bocking

           Workers responsible for refueling Porter aircraft as well as private planes and the ORNGE air ambulances at the Toronto Island Airport have been on strike since January 10 over unsafe working conditions and low pay.
           Health and safety is a major issue for the small group of 22 refuelers, mostly in their 20s and 30s. Prior to the strike, the company delayed the agreed-upon provision of coveralls and fuel resistant gloves, though once the strike began, scabs (replacement workers) were provided with the safety gear immediately. Workers cite incidents of fuel spills and leakages on the airport tarmac, for which they were told by their employer to “put a bucket under it” and shovel the spilled oil into snow banks. The airline claims to follow responsible safety and environmental practices. However the reports earned attention from local Harbourfront resident groups already unhappy with air pollution and noise from the increasingly busy airport.
           Porter’s plane refuelers start at $12 an hour, with most earning around $13. Porter’s initial offer of a 25 cent raise was rejected by the workers as inadequate, being well below a living wage for Toronto, let alone the industry standard for similar work. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a progressive think tank, calculates that in Toronto a living wage is $17.69, ensuring an individual working full time is able to have a decent standard of living above the poverty line.
           The striking workers, affiliated with the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 343 are urging the public not to fly with Porter until an agreement is reached. A picket line has been established near a parking lot adjacent to the airport. The workers have been prevented from distributing leaflets to passengers approaching the airport by the Toronto Port Authority, with two workers charged with trespassing by police for doing so. Despite Porter becoming a household name in Toronto through its large scale and effective advertising in print and online, coverage of the strike has been limited in these same newspapers. A rally for the Porter strikers has been called by community and labour supporters for April 15 downtown at Queens Quay and Bathurst Street.