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Garda cracks down on Pearson airport security staff

A passenger reads a carry on restriction sign in the departures area of Pearson Airport in Toronto, January 7, 2010.

J.P. MOCZULSKI for The Globe and Mail/j.p. moczulski The Globe and Mail

Garda World Security Corp. says it has clamped down on security screening staff, calling them "malcontents" who ignored orders to stop a work slowdown at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

"While the vast majority of our 1,600 screening officers at Pearson are performing their jobs, a small number of individuals have caused disruptions and delays and their actions will not be tolerated," Marc-Andre Aube, chief operating officer at Garda's Security Solutions Canada, said in a statement Tuesday.

He made the comments after delays on Tuesday morning hit Pearson again, following a work-to-rule protest that postponed many flights last week by up to four hours. Hundreds of travellers ran into flight delays of roughly 30 minutes on Tuesday morning, before Garda moved to end the renewal of the work-to-rule campaign, which ran from Wednesday through Friday last week.

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Garda said it has "74 screening officers at Pearson International Airport on suspension and commenced formal legal action against them following their refusal to honour a Canada Industrial Relations Board injunction and court order prohibiting a work slowdown in screening operations at the airport."

The CIRB had ordered the Canadian Airport Union Workers to halt their job action on Thursday, but employees ignored the cease-and-desist edict. The CIRB issued a second order on Friday. An industry insider said the second order contained toughened language, including the threat of fining each offending employee $10,000, and slapping the union with a further $10,000 fine for each breach of the edict.

As well, Ottawa is developing backup plans to deploy RCMP and other policing authorities to do security screening if Garda employees refuse to comply with the CIRB rulings, the insider said.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, which oversees passenger security checks, is placing the responsibility on Garda staff for the recent chaos at the country's largest airport.

"There is an ongoing labour dispute. These illegal work actions by a limited group of screening officers have resulted in a slowdown," CATSA spokesman Mathieu Larocque said in a statement. "We continue to support Garda's efforts in ensuring the CIRB order for these workers to cease and desist their illegal work action is fully respected."

Mr. Aube said Garda regrets the inconvenience caused by the illegal job actions in recent days. "We are continuing to work with our screening officers, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, airlines and airport officials to ensure that screening operations return to normal as quickly as possible," he said.

Workers are upset about Garda's plans to implement a new bidding process for work shifts. Union officials did not return calls for comment.

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Scott Armstrong, a spokesman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, said Tuesday morning's delays weren't extending into the afternoon.

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has appointed a mediator to help resolve the impasse. The mediator has met with both sides and further meetings are scheduled this week.

The failure to resolve the labour dispute at Pearson sent ripples across Canada's airport system, resulting in widespread flight delays and numerous cancellations just as the busy Thanksgiving weekend flying schedule kicked off.

"Garda is pursuing all legal means available against the individuals responsible for the illegal work slowdown, including termination of employment, contempt of court proceedings and claims for damages. These actions were taken following repeated notification to all employees at the airport," Garda spokesman Joe Gavaghan said in a statement.

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About the Author

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

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