General aviation

Vancouver airport chief confronted over worker rights at Annual Public Meeting

Members of Unite Here (in red) listen to Vancouver International Airport chief executive Craig Richmond at the authority’s Annual Public Meeting Thursday May 9 (photo: Brett Ballah).

Vancouver International Airport chief executive Craig Richmond found himself confronted, Thursday at the airport authority’s Annual Public Meeting, by a constituency rarely considered when thinking of airport service: the people who serve coffee and food at the airport’s concessions.

About a dozen members of Unite Here were on hand to express their displeasure at the way YVR is handling their food concession contracts, replacing them with new companies when the contracts expire.

The change was announced in February with up to 30 new food and beverage retail options opening as early as this fall.

But to make way for the new concessions, some older operations are closing, throwing at least 90 unionized employees out of work, and dozens of others without union representation.

One of the affected workers is Ramesh Pavan, who has been working as a bartender at the airport for a dozen years. He points to a newly introduced provincial law, intended to guarantee workers successor rights when their companies lose their contracts. “Is YVR going to guarantee that, yes or no?”

“Let me first say this I understand kind of disruption and change is very upsetting, and frankly scary,” responded Richmond, saying the change is being driven by consumer demand at the airport.

“We can’t impose policies related to employee benefits. But we do value every airport employee and we’re ensuring every impacted employee will get interviewed. And I have to tell you, in the current economic environment and hiring environment, you can come and see us if somebody doesn’t get a job or doesn’t get an interview, because I’ve got a lineup of food and beverage and retail operators who want to give people jobs.”

Richmond insisted if the provincial law is passed, everyone will comply. Not good enough for the union whose members will lose their jobs.

“The stance you’re taking on food service and other contracted workers is frankly insulting,” said Unite Here local 40 Executive Director Robert Demand. “This idea that people should get in line and interview for a job that they already had here at the airport for 10, 20 years.

“You go out and set bold initiatives on all sorts of things, and on this, you step back and say ‘we don’t have the power to do that.’ You have the sole power at YVR on setting terms and conditions of the contracts.”

“We disagree on the legality of us opening up these contracts,” replied Richmond, reiterating his certainty that a large number of the affected employees will get a job at the new food and retail outlets.

At the same time, Richmond announced YVR would introduce a fair wage policy for companies that contract directly with the airport authority, such as janitors and security staff, while encouraging others at the airport to follow suit. The airport says the policy means the minimum wage for affected employees will rise to $15.20 by 2020, 17 months ahead of a target set by the provincial government.

Currently, ground handling jobs at Air Canada, which is not covered by the policy, are being advertised at $13 an hour.

Categories: General aviation