Health and safety allegations at forefront as airline catering workers strike continues

About 800 workers at Gate Gourmet remain on strike and now the union is alleging mishandling of food by replacement workers. Melissa Nakhavoly reports.

Airline catering workers at Toronto Pearson airport remain on strike, and now serious health and safety allegations are being made against their replacements.

Teamsters Local Union 647, which represents striking Gate Gourmet workers who have been off the job for just over a week, says it has received photos showing replacement workers and managers not wearing hair and beard nets in areas where food is being handled.

“Gate Gourmet’s attitude throughout this process utterly disregards passengers, too,” said Martin Cerqua, the president of Teamsters Local Union 647.

“Now, if passengers out of Pearson find some hair in their next airline meal, it’s because Gate Gourmet would rather compromise on hygiene than give their experienced workers a raise.”

Teamsters Local Union, which represents the striking airline catering workers, provided a photo of replacement employees alleging the group was not following proper health and safety protocols. Photo: CityNews submission.

Cerqua said the Union is deeply concerned for the safety of the replacement workers, who “are clearly unfamiliar with safety protocols.”

“Someone is going to fall and break their neck because Gate Gourmet is so hellbent on underpaying workers.”

Cerqua is expected to join workers on the picket line on Wednesday morning.

Teamsters Local Union 647 said with the strike entering its second week, the labour dispute has already caused significant delays and disruptions. 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.

Gate Gourmet responds to allegations

A spokesperson for Gate Gourmet says it is investigating these incidents and if proven credible, they will be resolved immediately.

“Gate Gourmet Canada takes health and safety extremely seriously, and we continue to comply with all safety regulations and standard operating procedures,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to CityNews.

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

Last Monday, 96 per cent of workers rejected the final offer, with approximately 80 per cent turnout. The strike officially began at 12:01 a.m. on April 15, with picketers gathering in Mississauga near the airport.

Teamsters Local Union 647 has maintained that members accepted a wage freeze during the pandemic to help the company survive, and now they’re seeking adequate compensation.

“Gate Gourmet Canada has presented to the Union our best offer, which reflects the constraints we face as a business, and factors in the costs for Gate Gourmet Canada to perform its obligations under its agreements with customers,” Gate Gourmet wrote in its statement to CityNews.

“As it stands, we presently pay compensation consistent with (if not the highest) any airline caterer at Pearson, and that will increase by 12 per cent under our proposed deal. As the strike continues, we are becoming less optimistic about a negotiated settlement. We have made clear to the UnioUnion consequences of a strike that lasts any longer than it already has. A prolonged strike threatens our work at Pearson.”

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

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