Montreal airport refuellers vote in favour of New Year's Day strike

The workers in charge of refuelling planes at Montreal's Trudeau and Mirabel airports could walk off the job on New Year's Day, threatening to disrupt the busy holiday travel season.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said Saturday its members have voted 99 per cent in favour of a strike unless a new contract agreement with their employer is reached.

"They're not in the habit of going on strike or threatening to go on strike. But the membership is quite firm," union spokesman Frank Saptel said in a phone interview.

"Both parties need to talk and hopefully they’ll get somewhere."

The 100 or so unionized employees of Swissport Canada also rejected a tentative contract deal in a 90 per cent vote Friday night.

Mediation recommenced Saturday afternoon, with salaries and work-life balance the main points of contention between the employer and the workers, who have been without a contract since August.

"The ball is in the employer's court and we need its help," union local president Peter Tsoukalas said in a statement.

Swissport Canada is the only supplier of fuel for airlines operating out of Trudeau and Mirabel airports.

"We're going back to the negotiating table with an open mind and in good faith, hoping that we can come to an agreement quickly," said the Zurich-based company, which is owned by Chinese conglomerate HNA Group Co. Ltd.

A strike would cause "minimal disruption" and air traffic would, for the most part, "continue as normal," Swissport said.

New Year's Day is relatively quiet at Canadian airports, but traffic ramps up in the first week of January, with Trudeau airport averaging 55,000 passengers daily throughout the holiday season.

Aeroports de Montreal, the area's airport authority, said it would work closely with Swissport's fuelling department to implement a contingency plan — developed in conjunction with airlines — and that "operations will be maintained...should pressure tactics be launched."

The employees threatening to strike include refuelling personnel, machinists, dispatchers, maintenance workers and mechanics.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 28, 2019

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press