Airline caterers strike affecting travellers on flights via Toronto Pearson airport

Over 800 workers for a prominent catering company that supplies food and drink to several airlines, have hit the picket lines. As Shauna Hunt reports, the union is demanding better pay after years of supporting the company through turbulent times.

The union representing airline food workers says they are officially on strike after rejecting the final offer presented to them by Gate Gourmet, resulting in some travel delays at Toronto Pearson airport.

Teamsters Local Union 647 announced last week that over 800 workers at the company, which operates out of Toronto Pearson Airport, voted nearly 99 per cent in favour of strike action.

On Monday night, 96 per cent of workers rejected the final offer, with approximately 80 per cent turnout. The strike officially began at 12:01 a.m. and as of 6 a.m., picketers could be seen in Mississauga near the airport.

Photo courtesy: Giancarlo DeSantis/CityNews.

Director of Public Affairs for Teamsters Christopher Monette told CityNews the offer failed to address their concerns around wages.

The workers are tasked with cooking, packing and delivering meals, snacks, beverages, and other supplies to planes for in-flight service.

“The labour dispute will prove highly disruptive, with Air Canada being worst affected. We expect many flights to leave Pearson with less or no food,” read the statement from Monette.

Air Canada, WestJet, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, TAP Air Portugal, Air India, Aero Mexico, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, and Jetlines are among the airlines affected by the strike.

“Our members accepted a wage freeze during the pandemic to help this company survive. Now their managers brag about how profitable their operations have become at Pearson while proposing wage increases as low as 89 cents an hour,” said Martin Cerqua, lead union negotiator and president of Local Union 647.

Air Canada, WestJet issue statements

An Air Canada spokesperson tells CityNews the airline has developed a contingency plan in preparation for strike action and will continue to address affected customers directly.

“We anticipate there will be no impact on our international flights, but we plan to make some adjustments to food and beverage service on certain North American flights departing from and, in some cases on shorter routes, returning to Toronto,” Air Canada said. “Short-haul flights of less than two hours duration [will be] most impacted.”

In a statement from WestJet, an airline spokesperson said flights operating on Boeing 737 aircraft departing or arriving at Pearson as of Tuesday may experience an inconsistent food or beverage offering.

“To limit disruption, WestJet proactively prepared contingency plans to ensure critical supplies are available onboard and, wherever possible, will continue to double-cater flights from alternative destinations with stopovers in Toronto,” the airline said. “Guests who are eligible to receive an inflight meal including those in the premium cabin or extended comfort seating, and all guests travelling on transatlantic flights, will receive either an alternative option or a food and beverage voucher for use in the terminal, pre-departure.”

WestJet is advising guests travelling to or from Toronto to bring an extra snack or beverage for their journey.

“We sincerely apologize to all impacted guests and appreciate their continued patience and understanding as the situation evolves.”

In a social media post on X, a Pearson spokesperson wrote that food services inside the airport will not be affected by the labour disruption.

A spokesperson with Teamsters Canada confirmed with CityNews last week that a walkout would disrupt between 230 and 250 flights daily, equivalent to roughly 25 per cent of daily flights travelling through Toronto Pearson.

The union says Gate Gourmet workers in Toronto are paid well below industry standards, in the hourly range of between $17.69 and $20, and wants to close that gap.

“The cost-of-living crisis in the GTA is severe, with some at Gate Gourmet now struggling to pay rent and afford groceries,” added Cerqua.

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