Taking Flight
/ Author: Brendan Kooy 1528 Rate this article:
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Taking Flight

Following the largest grassroots organizing campaign in CLAC history, over 750 screening officers in Calgary voted to join CLAC. And the work of providing real representation began immediately

By Brendan Kooy, CLAC Representative

IT ALL STARTED IN THE summer of 2017, a time that seems like ancient history now. A small group of screening officers at the Calgary International Airport, designated YYC, had talked for months about their unhappiness with their union representation. They started to look for alternatives to the Teamsters union, which had represented them for over 10 years.

The disgruntled officers, tired of years of poor representation, discussed the situation during breaks at work. They even created a private Facebook group to figure out among themselves what to do.

They reached out to friends and acquaintances who had experience with other unions. They did research about the timing and process of changing unions. Eventually, they contacted a few unions.

One of those unions was CLAC, and within days, the largest grassroots organizing campaign in CLAC history was underway. But as CLAC reps and members would learn almost a year-and-a-half later, winning the representation vote was only the start. The work of providing real representation would begin in dramatic fashion the very next day.

HOW DID YYC SCREENING OFFICERS come to choose CLAC? One officer had a son who worked as a CLAC member up north in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Another had first-hand experience with her husband working as a CLAC member in Manitoba for eight years. Another knew a colleague at YYC who had a positive experience working at a warehouse in Calgary as a CLAC member. And many screening officers had seen a steady stream of CLAC members wearing their Local 63 shirts, hoodies, and hats through the airport as they made their way to or from work in the construction industry.

“I worked as a CLAC member at the Buy-Low Foods warehouse in Calgary back in the 1990s,” says Terence Couch. “This was my first and only experience as a union member before becoming a Teamsters member at YYC. My past experience with CLAC was very positive—and quite different than what I experienced with the Teamsters.

“I still have a friend who works at Buy-Low and is a steward, which tells me after all these years how strong and stable that workplace is. When I heard about the campaign at YYC to leave the Teamsters, I was fully on board and happy to share my positive experience working as a CLAC member with my fellow screening officers.”

Two screening officers sent inquiries to CLAC through its website—completely independent of each other—in July and August 2017. After some back and forth communication, CLAC representatives arranged a meeting in the first week of September at the Calgary Member Centre, conveniently located only five minutes from the airport.

The three officers who attended that meeting had a ton of questions: How big is CLAC? Can and will CLAC take over representation from the Teamsters when the opportunity comes? What does CLAC offer for benefits and retirement plans? Has CLAC ever dealt with airport security screening officers before?

The conversation that started in that first meeting led to numerous follow-up meetings over the next three months, with more and more screening officers attending. The more they learned about what CLAC had to offer, the more they got on board with the idea of leaving the Teamsters.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how accommodating my meetings with CLAC representatives were,” says Mohammad Anis, who was recently elected as a steward. “They could relate to what we were going through and offered expert advice and help with all matters of concern. They were more helpful and knowledgeable than our union at the time. I loved their eagerness to help and how they went out of their way to guide us throughout the process.”

Right from the beginning, the group of screening officers and CLAC representatives made a conscious decision to not just launch into an organizing campaign. They wanted to get to know each other first and learn about the expectations both sides had.

Screening officers wanted to know that CLAC was up to the task of representing a group of over 750 workers employed by Garda Security Screening Inc., a major international security services company, in the high-stress environment of a major international airport. CLAC reps wanted to be sure that the officers were seeking the kind of representation model CLAC offered and whether they thought that model would work for them.

The reps also wanted to know whether they had a legitimate chance of success if the decision was made to press the launch button on the campaign. All organizing campaigns take time and money—let alone one involving over 750 workers—and CLAC does its best to ensure its members’ dues are spent wisely.

“I sacrificed my own time to research about other unions, reach out, and meet with them,” says Mohammad. “I was just glad that I could find a union that was interested in serving my family at Garda fairly and help us fight for what we deserve.

“After years with the Teamsters, we saw a way out, and we all took that step together. We saw an opportunity to mend the broken spirits of the screening officers at the Calgary Airport, and we took a shot.”

THE TWO GROUPS GRADUALLY BECAME more comfortable with each other, and on December 4, 2017, the campaign launched publicly. The campaign included a customized CLAC YYC organizing website along with a CLAC for YYC Screeners public Facebook page.

CLAC deputized a group of approximately 20 screening officers as official organizers so they would be able to distribute and accept signed CLAC membership application cards, along with the federally mandated $5 membership fee. Printed materials about CLAC’s benefits and retirement programs, dues policy, and vision for representation at YYC were distributed, along with flyers for CLAC open house meetings at the Delta hotel connected to YYC.

As can be expected on any large-scale union organizing campaign, workers were divided. Some officers preferred the Teamsters while others favoured change with CLAC. Some chose to remain out of it completely.

“During the campaign, Teamsters supporters spread negative propaganda about CLAC and the campaigners,” says Shannon Olson, who was also recently elected as a steward. “But through it all, CLAC representatives remained professional and continued to reassure members by calmly and quickly answering the many questions and addressing the allegations. The proof of the confidence in CLAC and its representatives was in the overwhelming vote for CLAC as our new union.”

CLAC representatives did not make unrealistic promises just to gain support. They respected the wishes of those who chose not to support CLAC. They didn’t sling mud at the incumbent union but did provide raw factual comparisons between the Teamsters and CLAC. Ultimately, CLAC respected the right of the screening officers to choose which model of representation they preferred.

“While meeting with the group of organizers, it was clear to us this group had been overlooked and taken advantage of for a long time,” says Randy Klassen, CLAC Calgary regional director. “As a result, they had major trust issues with unions, but they were interested in our wholesome and transparent way of communicating.

“They want good representation and to be part of the process and feel heard and listened to. We stuck to our messages of transparency, inclusion, and support and felt strongly that the employees would choose us over the broken promises of their previous union.”

THE CAMPAIGN SOON GAINED MOMENTUM, with over 250 CLAC membership cards signed by the end of December 2017. It became very clear very quickly that many screening officers had a strong desire for change.

In January 2018, the initial flurry of action slowed slightly, but support kept steadily building. By March, membership card numbers had hit 350, close to the 50 percent needed to get to a representation vote. CLAC was within striking distance of filing an application with the federal labour board. Screening officers fall under the Canada Labour Code since airports and air transportation are under federal government jurisdiction.

Internal organizers continued to communicate with their fellow screening officers. Eventually, CLAC had accumulated signed membership cards and fees from 412 officers, leading to the application for certification, which was officially filed on April 26, 2018.

After a few nervous weeks for all involved following the application, the Canada Industrial Relations Board ordered a representation vote to be held on June 5 and 6, 2018. But because the Teamsters filed unfair labour practice complaints against CLAC, the results of the vote would remain sealed pending a labour board hearing to determine if the Teamsters’ complaints had any validity.

On the days of the vote, held at the YYC Delta hotel, the Teamsters union had six to eight business agents on the property of the hotel and airport. They were busy talking to members, telling them to go vote, and behaving in ways that some screening officers felt inappropriate and intimidating.

CLAC sent one representative to sit in on the vote as a scrutineer, trusting that the message of what CLAC could do for screening officers would be enough to carry the day and the vote.

“During our campaign and voting process, those loyal to the Teamsters and their reps tried everything they could to intimidate members,” says Shannon. “Even to the extent of trying to convince people how they should vote as they were heading in to vote, and hanging around the voting area.”

THREE DAYS OF LABOUR BOARD hearings stretched from the last week of July through the first week of September. The Teamsters made all sorts of allegations of unfair things that CLAC supposedly did while organizing in an effort to get the board to dismiss CLAC’s application without even counting the vote results. CLAC firmly defended the fact that the organizing campaign was well-planned, transparent, and legal.

Eventually, the board released its decision, dismissing the Teamsters’ complaints and ordering the vote to be counted. When the ballot box was finally opened on December 5, the results were 62 percent in favour of CLAC Local 56!

But the celebration was short-lived. The next morning, screening officers found out the Teamsters had already decided to cancel the union-sponsored benefits plan for all 750 members—even retroactive to November 30.

CLAC’s Calgary Member Centre was understandably inundated with calls and emails from its newest members, who all of a sudden found themselves without benefits coverage. But within two weeks after officially taking over representation rights at YYC on December 7, the CLAC Western Benefits Team already had a working benefits plan up and running for the screening officers.

Even more impressive, the start date for the plan was backdated to December 1. This ensured that the new members would not experience any gap in coverage coming off their previous benefits plan and onto the CLAC benefits plan, even though CLAC was only legally required to begin coverage on December 7.

“CLAC stepped up to provide us fair representation,” says Mohammad. “So far, their actions have reflected their promises.”

WHILE MAINTAINING CONTINUOUS BENEFITS COVERAGE was CLAC’s number one priority at first, much more work needed to be done. Steward voting took place from December 17 to 20, including two days of online voting—a first for YYC screening officers. This fulfilled a commitment made by CLAC to officers during the organizing campaign to improve access to this important process of deciding who their stewards would be.

“Steward elections with CLAC were fair and modern,” says Andres Acuna, a former Teamsters steward who was recently elected as a CLAC steward. “Options were provided with online and paper ballots, and the turnout for officers voting [over 550 employees participated] was the highest that I have ever seen.”

The 20 stewards elected then went through Toolbox 1, the first level of CLAC’s comprehensive steward training program. This mandatory training ensures new stewards are equipped to deal with member concerns at work.

“After I was elected as a steward, CLAC was all over it to get the new stewards that were elected trained, updated, and ready to act as a steward,” says Andres. “Training was professional and on point.”

CLAC also took over all outstanding grievances under the Teamsters, approximately 24 in total—some dating back to July 2018. Working with stewards and the members involved, all but a few have been settled already.

“I had been a steward with the Teamsters for years but was never invited to attend a grievance meeting,” says Andres. “CLAC has already invited me to attend a grievance meeting and has kept me in the loop on what’s happening.

“It was impressive to watch our CLAC representatives while meeting with the company—they were professional, clear, and straight to the point. I’m very impressed with our reps and how CLAC has done generally so far at YYC. They are willing to listen, and they always answer your questions and get back to you.”

EVEN WITH SO MUCH ACCOMPLISHED within the first month of CLAC representation at YYC, much more work remains to be done. The next big item is to work with members to gather proposals and elect a bargaining committee prior to entering into negotiations with Garda to renew the collective agreement.

“I believe that together we can achieve all that we deserve,” says Mohammad. “I’m glad CLAC is a part of our family now.”

Along with the long list of normal union representation work underway—initiating negotiations, resolving grievances, meeting regularly—CLAC is focussed on building a healthy relationship with the screening officers at YYC. The goal is to provide responsive member service and quality benefits and pension plans. But most important is establishing trust so that screening officers know that CLAC, their union, is there to support them.

Building that trust will take more than a week, a month—or maybe even a year—but it has already taken flight. It’s a goal CLAC strives for in each and every workplace, because that’s what providing real representation is all about.

“CLAC stepped in and helped immediately,” says Andres. “For once, YYC screening officers are feeling like they have a union that has their back.”

Keeping Everyone Safe

Travelling can be stressful, and entering a busy airport checkpoint can test your patience—even on a good day! Here’s some advice from a former screening officer to make the process quicker and smoother for you and for them.

10 AIRPORT SCREENING TIPS

1. Give yourself lots of time. – Waiting can be frustrating, but it’s even worse if you’re running late!

2. Know the rules. – Before you leave, check the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority website (catsa-acsta.gc.ca). The website has a handy search bar. Just type in an item to check if you’re allowed to bring it on board.

3. Remove your computer. – Be prepared to remove your computer from its bag when you enter security. It needs to be x-rayed—alone—nothing under, on top of, or touching it.

4. Keep your shoes on. – Your shoes can usually be left on, but the screening officer may ask you to remove them. When travelling to the US, passengers 12 years and older must remove their shoes unless they can’t walk without them.

5. Disclose any metal replacement joints. – Let the screening officer know that you have metal in your body before walking through the metal detector. The officer will be able to give you more choices.

6. Remove any metal items. – Make sure your coins, keys, large metal jewellery, phone, and belt buckle are removed from your person.

7. You may be randomly selected for additional screening. – About 20 percent of passengers are selected—and it is truly random! Always choose the body scanner. It’s not radioactive, is much faster, and eliminates being touched by a screening officer—they don’t want to touch you either!

8. If your bag goes for further search, be patient! – The officer has to identify the item, find it, then confirm with a coworker before they give you options.

9. Screening officers have the final say. – The decisions made by officers are up to them. Remember, these officers have a very specific job to do to keep everyone safe.

10. Above all, be friendly! – Screening officers deal with hundreds of people every day—including many frustrated, tired, and impatient passengers. So be friendly to them, and enjoy your flight!

YYC Fast Facts

Important Dates

1914 – Calgary’s first airport opens with nothing more than a hut and a grass runway.

1939 – McCall Field, site of the current airport, opens and is named after native Calgarian Fred McCall, a World War I ace.

1961 – Jet aircraft begin landing at the airport.

1966 – The federal government buys the airport for $2 million and renames it Calgary International Airport.

1977 – A new $130 million terminal is built and forms the base of the present-day airport.

2016 – A new $1.6 billion international terminal opens.

By the Numbers

16.3 million – Number of passengers in 2017

147,000 tonnes – Amount of cargo in 2017

233,017 – Number of aircraft movements in 2017

4 – Number of runways, ranging from 1,890 to 4,267 metres long (6,200 – 14,000 feet)

1.6 million litres – Amount of aircraft fuel pumped per day

17 kilometres – Distance to downtown Calgary

Sources: wikipedia.org, yyc.com

Pickpockets to Terrorists

In the early days of air travel, airport security was simple and minimal. Local police protected passengers and the airport mostly against thieves, pickpockets, and vandals. The first hijacking occurred in Peru in 1931, but over the years, hijackings were very rare. Security didn’t start to be taken more seriously until the 1960s when commercial aviation began to increase significantly with the advent of modern jet travel. More and more people were flying as air travel became more affordable. During the 1960s, politically motivated hijackings became a serious problem—there were 87 in 1969 alone. As a result, the International Civil Aviation Organization responded with three major conventions in 1969 and 1971 with recommendations to combat hijacking and terrorism. Most countries adopted the recommendations into their national laws, but security procedures and enforcement varied widely. Until 9/11. Following that single event, the days of relaxed airport security were gone forever.

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