Winnipeg Airports Authority lays off 25 per cent of staff as air travel drops
35 positions cut either permanently or temporarily, spokesperson says
The Winnipeg Airports Authority is laying off one-quarter of its staff in Winnipeg, citing the drastic drop in air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic — but the union representing some of those employees says the corporation its violating its collective agreement.
The cuts amount to losing 35 positions, although only 28 were filled at the time of the layoffs, said Tyler MacAfee, vice-president of communications and government relations for the corporation.
Of those, 22 positions are unionized with the Public Service Alliance of Canada's Union Of Canadian Transportation Employees Local 50600.
Six of those people were permanently laid off, and 16 were laid off with the possibility of being called back to their positions within a year, he said.
A spokesperson for the union said the corporation offered unionized employees options that could minimize job losses. Those options, which included pay cuts, were rejected by the employees because they didn't come with a guarantee of avoiding layoffs.
"The membership said that they were not prepared to take those concessions without some sort of guarantee that it would minimize job loss. And the following morning the employer issued a layoff notice for all employees," said Marianne Hladun, regional executive vice-president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada's prairie region.
"[The employees] were willing to contribute to ensuring the success of the airport, [but] they're really disappointed in management's response."
Hladun said the union filed grievances because the corporation is violating provisions of its collective agreement with the unionized employees, including notification periods and severance amounts. If those matter aren't resolved internally, they'll be sent to arbitration, she said.
"We recognize [these are] unprecedented times, but we also believe that whatever measures we put before our members needs to be related to the pandemic and needs to have an end date and needs to clearly identify that by accepting those, it would minimize impact on our members and their families," she said. "To date, we've not seen an offer of that sort."
Hladun said the job cuts affect positions including airside operations, administration and trades.
Temporary layoffs could turn permanent
"It's really kind of balanced across the board," MacAfee told CBC Radio Noon host Emily Brass on Friday. "We've had to take a look at the company as well and say, 'Are all those positions that we needed for a 4.5-million-passenger airport still required for the size that we're going to be today and in the foreseeable future?'"
He said with the slowdown in air travel it has seen, Winnipeg's airport will be "fortunate" if it gets 2 million passengers by the end of the year.
MacAfee said 13 non-union positions were also affected by the layoffs. Two of those were permanently laid off, two went into early retirements and the rest were vacancies (like temporary replacements for employees on maternity leave) that will not be filled, he said.
MacAfee said the corporation, which manages the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, sent notices about the layoffs two weeks ago. He said it's still possible some of the temporary job losses could become permanent.
"It's entirely possible, based on where the industry goes," he said. "There's a lot of talk about a second wave [of COVID-19], what impact that could have on air traffic."
Remaining non-unionized employees also took pay cuts ranging from 16 to 50 per cent to avoid further layoffs, MacAfee said.
He said it could be three or four years before air travel numbers rebound.
With files from Pat Kaniuga