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Air Canada workers ordered back to work, ending wildcat strike

A cease-and-desist order ended a wildcat strike staged by Air Canada ground crews about 12 hours after it began. The illegal job action — spurred in part by the suspension of three workers who allegedly heckled the federal labour minister — led to travel chaos at Pearson International Airport on Friday morning.

About 200 workers represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), including baggage handlers and ramp workers, walked off the job around 10 p.m. Thursday night at Pearson.

“I say the same thing every time: ‘I’m never going to deal with Air Canada again,'” traveller Aaron Huizing said as he tried to return home to Ottawa from the Dominican Republic. “Maybe next time I’ll listen to myself.”

“I’m not too happy,” said traveller Ryan Tuck, who was heading home to Ottawa from Los Angeles. “We’re getting mixed messages from Air Canada and we don’t even know where our luggage is or what to do next.”

Customers on dozens of Air Canada flights were stranded and forced to re-book flights overnight.

“As soon as the [wildcat strike] started we began looking at our legal options and we did obtain an injunction this morning,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick told CityNews.

The legal order was announced around 10 a.m. and an IAMAW official read it aloud to striking workers at Pearson. Most workers complied with the court demand.

“No discipline shall be meted out to any employee until there is a meeting between the union, the employer and myself,” the federal arbitrator’s decision stated.

The cease-and-desist order also stated employees who return to work immediately won’t face pay deductions.

The illegal strike started at Pearson after three workers were suspended with pay for 72 hours, reportedly for heckling Labour Minister Lisa Raitt when she walked by them on her way to her flight. Those workers will return to work once the suspension has ended, the arbitrator ruled.

Raitt’s office released a statement Friday, saying, “the Minister did not make any comments about the union members, nor engage in conversation with them.”

Raitt’s office added that “(she) did not file any complaints with Peel Regional Police or with Air Canada regarding this matter.”

Another 37 workers were fired but have since been reinstated because they complied with the order.

“We regret that it happened,” union spokesman Bill Trbovich said. “But at least everybody got their jobs back, cooler heads have prevailed, and now it’s back to work.”

Raitt tabled back-to-work legislation for Air Canada workers earlier this month in order to prevent a strike by baggage handlers, cargo agents and mechanics and to stop the airline from locking out its pilots.

The federal labour ministry had warned Friday that “law enforcement agencies have been contacted, and will be deployed if necessary.”

Workers who continue to take part in the illegal job action could face $1,000 fines and the union could face $100,000-a-day penalties, the ministry said. [View the story “Air Canada workers at Pearson airport stage wildcat strike. ” on Storify] Hundreds of picketers gathered at Pearson’s Terminal 1 on Friday morning chanting “shut it down” — some began rallying Thursday night, while others joined the picket after showing up for work Friday morning. The striking workers were reportedly hoping Air Canada pilots would join them.

Air Canada ground crews also walked of the job in Montreal and Vancouver on Friday in solidarity with their Pearson colleagues.

Many planes were forced to stay on the tarmac with passengers on board for up to an hour and a half Thursday night. The travellers were forced to wait, once again, for their luggage once off the flight and many bags were still unclaimed Friday morning.

Many unhappy customers used social media to vent their frustrations.

“Looks like I may get stuck in Edmonton & won’t get home to #YYZ,” CityNews viewer Lisa Kramer said via Twitter Friday morning.

“ … being told earliest I can get a flight to Toronto will be tomorrow afternoon!”

Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement was among the passengers facing delays Thursday night. He was delayed for two hours and then had to get off his flight for Halifax. He left the airport without collecting his luggage.

Clement was heckled by workers as he left his flight and he criticized the illegal strike action.

“You can’t illegally take your frustrations out on management and inconvenience the travelling public. I don’t think that’s right,” he said.

With files from The Canadian Press