Supporting strikers at Porter Airlines

Background

Support the strikers at Porter!

Graphic from flyer developed by wobblies in support of this strike Click to download full PDF.

 On Thursday, January 17th COPE local 343, a union of Porter Airline refuelers, went on strike primarily over health and safety issues and working conditions.
The health and safety issues at Porter are numerous. When refuelers, who are working without proper protective clothing, have notified management of fuel leaks they have been told to “Put a bucket under it.” Additionally, workers have been doing jobs that require a partner by themselves. This has resulted in accidents (although given Porter’s refusal to better conditions “accident” may not be quite the right word). For example, on a night shift one worker fell, injuring himself. Luckily, the next aircraft he was supposed to fuel was a ORNGE (air ambulance) helicopter whose medics came to assist him. If they hadn’t he may have been left alone and unconscious on the tarmac, in winter and without any means of communication, until the next shift came on 5 hours later.
In addition to unsafe working conditions, the striking Porter workers are the lowest paid in the industry, making only $12 an hour compared to $16-18 an hour at other Canadian airlines. The company refuses to offer anything more than a 25 cent raise for workers without a DZ (heavy truck) license. They are offering no increase for DZ certified workers.
The response from Porter has been cold and clear – safety and the well being of their workers is not among their priorities. In addition, rather than negotiate, Porter brought in scab workers to replace the strikers. These replacement workers had only one week of training – regular employees are trained for a month. We shouldn’t be surprised that a company that puts its workers’ safety and wellbeing in jeopardy also puts its customers’ safety and wellbeing in jeopardy as well in the pursuit of profit.
We, as the broader community and fellow workers, refuse to sit passively by while a company like Porter attacks the dignity and health of COPE 343 workers. They’re on the picket line fighting for better working conditions and wages today – we might be the ones struggling tomorrow.

Wobblies and GTA Solidarity Pact in Solidarity

On Friday the 18th, several IWW’s and a few members of the SolPact group joined the striking airplane fuelers from Porter Airlines represented by COPE Local 343. We came with greater numbers than our first visit on Wednesday, and we had a great time getting to know the the strikers while we picketed. They were warm, friendly and spirited despite the cold and the fact that they are being scabbed on and are worried about the strike’s current effectiveness.
The current tactics are fairly non-confrontational and involve holding up cars coming in and out of two parking lots at the entrance to the ferry – 3 minutes for those who are respectful, for those who aren’t somewhere around 5 minutes. I spoke to a brother who had his foot run over and stopped on by an angry driver the day before. He got back up and confronted the driver, however kept his cool in the end.
After getting to know the workers and their situation a bit more, we made clear our intention of standing with the group of workers to fully blockade all ferry traffic if that was their wish. There was a 1 hour shift overlap where all 20 workers would be present, and this seemed the best time to set up. Nearly every worker agreed that they wanted to participate, and said they were becoming frustrated with the current tactic. Even some COPE reps expressed similar frustrations.

A morning which was cold, and hot

 At 4:30 in the morning on Tuesday January 22nd, an Action Committee-organized flying squad braved the cold and earliness and headed down to Billy Bishop Airport in an attempt help COPE 343 escalate their strike. Workers decided to set up lines at two parking lots with the intention of delaying Porter employees (especially scabs) from making the first ferry to the airport at 5:15.
We picketed until 7:00 (when the morning shift had largely already arrived at work). Besides walking the line with the strikers, we handed out a wobbly produced information flyer.
For an early morning action, we had, I think, an excellent turnout of seven wobblies and three of our friends (mostly from Common Cause). Combined with the 15-20 strikers and the COPE staffer, we had enough people to successfully execute the action.
The strikers remain upbeat. Everyone seemed pleased that their strike had moved away from a strictly symbolic picket/protest and to something that might actually put economic pressure on the company.

Take action

 Action Committee is doing good stuff and it’s fun! We have some plans in the works which will be announced as they are finalized. Join us at our next meeting which will be announced in the next few days and come out to actions!
How you can help
In order to beat Porter, the strikers need your support. Please call Porter (416-203-8100) and tell them to get back to bargaining! If you’re near the airport, please come down to the picket line and say hello!
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