Canada's record on wildcat strikes

Toronto's Pearson Airport was a scene of chaos on March 23 after Air Canada baggage handlers and ground staff launched a short illegal strike. Here's a look at some notable wildcat actions in Canada.
A wildcat strike by employees of the Toronto Transit Commission on May 29, 2006, forced an estimated 800,000 commuters to find other transportation plans. (Aaron Harris/CP )

Toronto’s Pearson Airport was a scene of chaos on March 23 after Air Canada baggage handlers and ground staff launched a short wildcat strike.

Labour disputes between the airline and its pilots, mechanics, flight attendants and ground crews have been roiling for more than a year, and gained the attention of Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, who introduced back-to-work legislation earlier this month.

The incident that precipitated the most recent action involved Raitt herself, while she was passing through the airport’s Terminal 1 on March 22.

Raitt said three Air Canada workers gave her a mocking applause when she walked by. According to Air Canada workers, the airline subsequently suspended these three employees, which in turn inspired the wildcat action. The workers were back on the job by the afternoon of March 23.

Here’s a look at other notable illegal strikes in Canada.

Toronto transit workers, 2006

Between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. on May 29, 2006, 800 mechanical and janitorial workers with the Toronto Transit Commission staged a walkout, protesting a proposal by management to permanently switch 100 janitors and subway-track workers to the night shift.

The action wasn’t initiated by all members of the union, but most TTC workers reporting for work that day ended up joining their striking colleagues in solidarity. The disruption shut down TTC service, leaving an estimated 800,000 commuters looking for other means of transport on one of the hottest days of the year, before union leader Bob Kinnear announced that workers would return to work around 3 p.m.

Air Canada ground crew workers in Toronto, 2005

On Jan. 19, 2005, a four-hour wildcat strike by Air Canada ground crew workers at Toronto’s Pearson Airport delayed 60 flights and led to the cancellation of another 19.

The action was sparked by an accusation from Air Canada management that workers were abusing the time card system, checking in and out on behalf of colleagues who were either arriving late, leaving early or not showing up at all.

The workers claimed they had gotten a supervisor’s permission to swipe electronic time cards on behalf of other employees. The strike began at 4 p.m. and ended just after 8 p.m., when the airline agreed the workers would not be disciplined.

B.C. teachers, 2005

Looking for bargaining rights, limits on class size and a 15-per-cent salary increase, 38,000 B.C. teachers launched a wildcat strike on Oct. 7, 2005 that lasted 10 days. After being fined $500,000 by the B.C. Supreme Court for illegal striking, the union accepted a mediator’s proposal and went back to work.

Saskatchewan nurses, 1999

Citing low wages and a chronic shortage of nursing staff, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses struck on April 8, 1999. After the province passed legislation ordering them back to work, SUN members stayed on the picket lines for another week. In the end, the union won wage increases of 13.7 percent and a pledge from the government that it would fund 200 new positions.

Federal postal workers, 1965

In the mid-'60s, public sector employees weren’t allowed to form unions, much less strike — which is why the 1965 action by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers was so nervy. Seeking higher wages, better management and collective bargaining, CUP-W members struck for two weeks.

The outcome? Then-prime minister Lester Pearson granted federal employees the right to strike.