Nova Scotia

Halifax airport commissionaires share $500K in back pay

About 400 commissionaires who work at the Halifax airport are starting to receive cheques in back pay won in a four-year legal battle.

Retired Mountie triggered the court case

Christmas has come early for 400 commissionaires who work at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

On Tuesday, they started receiving cheques for nearly $500,000 in back pay won in a four-year legal battle with Commissionaires Nova Scotia.

"I'm very happy, obviously," said David Crouse, a commissionaire from 2007 to 2010. His complaint triggered the case. Tuesday morning he was holding a cheque for $3,300.

"It's personal satisfaction. The little guy won over the big guy. It's infrequent a small person gets as far as we did in this," Crouse told CBC News.

Backed by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Crouse argued that since he worked at a federal airport he was entitled to overtime and benefits under the federal labour code. 

Commissionaires Nova Scotia claimed its airport employees should be paid under less generous Nova Scotia labour laws.

It relented earlier this year after losing two federal court rulings and a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to refuse to hear its appeal.

PSAC says the payout is slightly less than $500,000. Twelve of its members have died since the case began. Their estates will get the back pay.

Commissionaires Nova Scotia would not disclose the payout nor how much it paid in legal fees to fight the case.

"It certainly is costly but sometimes it's part of doing business. We've planned for it and we're just fine," CEO Mike Brownlow told CBC News.

Brownlow thanked commissionaires for their patience and described the lengthy episode as a learning experience.

"We do hope this is the conclusion," he said.

Commissionaires Nova Scotia rented a room at an airport hotel for Tuesday and Wednesday so employees could collect the back pay.

Crouse was the first of dozens to arrive Tuesday morning. He posed for pictures and shook hands with other commissionaires as they arrived to pick up their cheques.

"It's a nice Christmas present. I've got lots of places for the money," said Crouse, who is also a retired RCMP officer.

PSAC says the case proves the value of a union.

"Without us being unionized this is not possible. We'd never be able to put it forward," said Miles States, president of PSAC Local 85100.