St. John’s Airport? It’s not fit.

We have a saying in Newfoundlandand Labrador, for situations that are unacceptable. Unjust. Unfair. Outrageous. ‘Not fit’.

Our friends on the mainland use the phrase too, but in a slightly different way. Up there it means something is not equal. It doesn’t match up. Doesn’t add up. It doesn’t fit.

It’s a bit ironic that the St. John’sAirport Authority – a crowd that would very much like to compare themselves to their colleagues on the mainland – have created a situation that falls under both definitions. One that’s not fit.

Let’s take a look at that situation.

The bosses get parity, the workers get ripped off

As we all know, 85 employees of the St. John’sInternational Airport Authority have been on strike for the past three months.  These 85 hard-working staff play a vital role keeping this province connected to the wider world. They’re the ones who ensure the airport functions safely in all weather and under all conditions. They’re the ones who made sure our airport was able to meet the growing demand that saw record-breaking numbers of passengers for the past two years. They’re the ones who worked diligently despite not receiving a pay raise in over four years, despite the remarkable growth in passengers, flights and airlines using the airport during that same period (growth at four times the rate of other airports in Atlantic Canada).

Now, there’s a bit of a contradiction here. Workers are asking to be paid the same as their counterparts in Halifax. After all, their bosses at the Airport Authority think they deserve to be paid the same as the bosses at the HalifaxInternationalAirport. Actually, they think they deserve a bit more. The twelve directors at the St. John’sAirport Authority received $269,000 in executive compensation last year (that’s not a regular job by the way – that’s the ‘thank you’ cash they get for sitting at board meetings).

The thirteen directors at the Halifax Airport Authority received $241,000.

So the St. John’sAirportbosses actually rake in a bit more. Well, our economy’s booming, so why not?

But there’s a double standard here (in the labour movement, we have a term for this: “unfair”). The bosses give themselves higher pay than the bosses in Halifax, but expect the workers to take lower pay than the workers in Halifax?

Now that’s not fit.

A sub-par performance

There’s another way St. John’sand Halifaxdon’t compare. Almost exactly one year ago, the Halifax International Airport Authority sat down to negotiate with its unionized workers. How long did Halifaxworkers have to go on strike for fairness?

0 days.

That’s right – the Halifaxbosses settled an agreement with their union in nine days. That’s all it took for negotiations. And not a single day of strike.

They’re not the only ones.  It took the airport at DeerLakeall of five days to negotiate a good agreement.

What’s wrong with the St. John’sAirport Authority? They’ve seen their workers on strike for almost 100 days, and management still can’t resolve the situation.

What are they paying themselves those big bonuses for again?

The Airport Authority says it cannot afford a pay increase to bring our local workers’ salaries in line with those at HalifaxAirport. But if the growing, expanding, airport with a higher average increase in flights than any other airport in the region can’t afford that pay increase, then we need to ask some serious questions about its bookkeeping.

Because something doesn’t add up.

Something doesn’t fit.

A need for accountability and transparency

There are some questions we need to ask about accountability. Exactly how much do the CEO and Vice-Presidents of the Airport Authority earn? Total compensation for senior executives increased by 20% from 2010 to 2011.   With money like that in free-flow, they can’t pay their employees standard pay rates? And allow a strike to linger for over three months?

What is going on at the Airport Authority?

Maybe there needs to be an overhaul of their board, to ensure more direct community and public accountability. There are people on that board who are supposed to be representing St. John’s, MountPearl, and Conception Bay South. Perhaps the local businesses in those communities ought to haul those reps in for a meeting to find out why they’re letting the strike linger on like this, a strike which is costing those communities and businesses a huge amount of revenue from cancelled meetings and conventions.

A strike that matters

There’s a new narrative in Newfoundlandand Labradorthat says we’re no longer a second-rate province.  We’re a ‘have’ province, with a strong economy, and a renewed sense of pride in ourselves and our work.

And for the most part, it’s true.

But there are still those among us who are being asked to settle for less. Not because there’s a need. But simply to satisfy the greed of the people they work for.

Our airport matters to all of us. Our communities, and the workers and families who live there, matter to all of us. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians getting a fair wage for their hard work, matters to all of us.

This strike matters to all of us.

Our airport bosses think they deserve treatment equal to or better than the treatment other airport bosses get in the region.

Shouldn’t our workers too?

This province’s hard-working and skilled employees are the ones that made the airport the success that it is. It’s time for them to get what they deserve. After all, what they’re asking for is no more – and no less – than what their bosses gave themselves: parity with HalifaxAirport.

Instead, the St. John’sAirport Authority is asking us to take second-best; at a time when they’re raking in higher profits than ever before.

And that’s not fit, no matter which way you look at it.

By: Jeannie Baldwin, Atlantic Regional Executive Vice-President, Public Service Alliance of Canada
Appeared in The Telegram, December 15, 2012, St. John’s, NL