Passenger flights resume at St. John's airport, but officials say fix is temporary
A rotational worker in Newfoundland says a swath of flight cancellations at the St. John's airport prompted by a labour dispute with firefighters has cost him at least a day's pay.
Thomas Johnston works on a ship in the Great Lakes region and lives in the town of Holyrood, N.L., on his time off. He said he was supposed to head back to work on Wednesday, flying from St. John's to Toronto at 5 a.m. and then to Windsor, Ont.
But Johnston said his flight was among those cancelled Wednesday morning due to staffing shortages at the airport's firehall.
"This should not have come to this level," Johnston said in a Facebook message to The Canadian Press about the dispute. "It should have been dealt with before bringing civilians into it."
The St. John's International Airport Authority announced Tuesday that all flights except cargo, medical evacuation and planes with fewer than 20 seats would be suspended as of 8 p.m. that night due to staffing shortages at the airport firehall.
In a tweet Wednesday morning, the authority said, "normal commercial operations" had resumed at 8 a.m., though many of the morning's flights were listed as cancelled or delayed.
"This solution is not permanent," officials wrote. "We encourage passengers to confirm upcoming travel plans with their airline as we continue to work through this issue as a matter of priority."
The Union of Canadian Transportation Employees claims that a "campaign of harassment and discrimination" against firefighters has stifled concerns around safety and regulatory compliance and ultimately thinned their ranks. In a news release Monday, the union said staff were being told by their doctors to stay home because of the "toxic workplace."
Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the situation is "completely unacceptable."
"This airport provides an essential service to Newfoundland and Labrador," Alghabra said in a statement Tuesday. "Both parties must take any necessary steps to find a solution that will keep operations ongoing and safe."
Federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan weighed in on Twitter, saying Tuesday the situation is "unsustainable."
On Wednesday morning, O'Regan said mediator Barney Dobbin had been brought in and would be working with the parties through the night.
"(Dobbin) is from St. John's and he knows the ground here well," O'Regan said in a tweet.
As for Johnston, he said he's been rescheduled on a flight heading out of St. John's on Thursday. But Johnston said he's not holding his breath.
"I'm not gone yet," he wrote. "Anything can happen between now and tomorrow morning."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2022.
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