On the Front Lines at YYC
With thousands of Canadians streaming home on flights landing at the Calgary airport, getting the government to provide adequate PPE for screening officers quickly became a priority for CLAC representatives. Thankfully, the government finally listened
By Brendan Kooy & Ben Timmermans, Representatives
Along with workers in other essential sectors, over 700 Local 56 members working as screening officers at the Calgary International Airport (YYC) have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though passenger volumes are now down considerably, it hasn’t been easy for these members.
When the COVID-19 situation was first classified as a pandemic in mid-March, air travel was still fairly heavy and only gradually started to decline once international borders were closed. The government asked Canadians to only travel if absolutely essential.
But many Canadians were still abroad and needed to come home, and YYC was designated as one of four Canadian airports able to accept passengers arriving from international destinations. Many nearly empty planes went out from YYC to destinations like Mexico, bringing home full loads of Canadians, and this meant continued traffic through YYC.
Health and safety quickly became the chief concern for YYC screening officers—especially personal protective equipment (PPE). Screening officers understandably wanted to feel safe and protected while coming to work at the airport, as so many early COVID-19 cases were linked to travel going through airports. No one wanted to contract the virus, pass it onto their families, or enable the virus to spread any further.
But while extra gloves and sanitizer were provided, masks were not. Requests for masks, from both screening officers and CLAC, were met with responses from the employer, Garda, and public health officials that wearing a mask only stopped the spread—and not the contraction—of the virus.
However, after talking with members, CLAC understood the mental and emotional toll of having to come to work at a high-risk workplace and not feel 100 percent protected during a pandemic such as this. So, we escalated the matter by writing to Marc Garneau, the federal transport minister, to ask for additional PPE measures to keep screening officers safe. We spoke publicly with the media to shine a spotlight on safety conditions for screening officers. Later, together with other unions representing screening officers at other Canadian airports, we also wrote a letter to federal politicians asking for action.
While the response did not come immediately, the transport minister signed an interim order in mid-April requiring both passengers travelling through airports and screening officers in close-contact positions to wear masks. And now, as of last week, screening officers will also have access to full face shields for additional protection. These are welcome changes, to say the least.
Today, we can look around and see most people in public spaces wearing some sort of mask or face covering. Indeed, the public health guidance has shifted from saying that masks weren’t absolutely necessary to asking Canadians to take an extra step of precaution to protect themselves and those around them.
Looking back, the instincts and requests of Local 56 members at YYC were right. Last week, CLAC wrote a follow up letter to the transport minister to thank the government for taking the action that it did to help keep screening officers safe.