UNITE HERE Canada tells House Committee: airport authorities need reform

Imagine if a business could set its own property tax rate, develop land without having to obtain local approvals and could operate without having to answer to our elected officials.  Would we want a business like this in our community?  Well, look no further than our own Vancouver Airport Authority (YVR).

Some years back, the federal government partially privatized operations of major Canadian airports, including YVR and Victoria International Airport.  The government granted airport authorities with many powers but little oversight and accountability over how they operate.

Today, the federal government is reviewing whether to fully privatize airports.  YVR says this would threaten local control and community input.  Yet, YVR doesn’t listen to our community now!  YVR can self-assess the taxes they pay to the City of Richmond, raise airport user fees at will, carry out land development projects without local approvals, and turn a deaf ear to workers’ concerns.  If airport authorities aren’t accountable to our elected officials, how accountable are they going be to low-wage airport workers?

UNITE HERE Canada presents at House Finance Committee’s pre-budget consultation in Vancouver.

We think it is time to change the way airport authorities work with our communities.  We don’t want privatization and we don’t want the status quo.

In October, UNITE HERE Canada appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance to call for federal reform of airport governance and made several recommendations to make airport authorities more accountable to workers and to our cities.   We want real accountability from YVR and other major airport authorities so that they contribute their fair share, coordinate with our local municipalities, and engage meaningfully with airport workers.

Is YVR Airport Sustainable for Workers?

Behind the counters at North America’s #1 airport    

YVR is ranked the #1 airport in North America.  Yet, too many airport concession workers juggle two jobs to make ends meet and work in challenging conditions.  Worse, YVR can upend hard-won wage and benefit gains made by unionized concession workers when flipping contracts to non-union operators.

“I’m exhausted all the time because I have to work two jobs.  If I could have one job with a decent wage, I could contribute to my community, do some volunteering in Richmond.  I can’t do that because I’m running from one job to another to pay the bills,” says Fipe Wong, a cook employed by HMSHost.

YVR outsources food and retail concessions to several operators – including HMSHost, which operates Canucks Bar & Grill, Starbucks, Palomino’s, Tim Hortons, and other franchises – and keeps a portion of the revenues.  YVR brings in more concession revenues, per passenger, than any other airport in North America, yet concession workers are being squeezed to work harder for less.

This fall, YVR concession workers are taking two important steps to end the race to the bottom and make these good, family-supporting jobs:

  • Unionized concession workers at HMSHost are fighting back.  The company wants to create more part-time, insecure jobs and wants workers to be on call seven days a week, yet still consider them “part-time”.   Host also wants to make it harder for workers to have health insurance.  Workers are in bargaining for higher pay, better access to medical benefits, and full-time work for those who want to maximize their hours.
  • Workers are also asking Vancouver Airport Authority to step up and do what other major airport authorities across North America have done – adopt wage and worker retention policies to mitigate the impact of contract flipping on displaced workers.

Together, concession workers are paving the way for decent jobs at the nation’s second largest airport.

Stay tuned for upcoming actions, and let us know if you want to get involved!  HMSHost workers will return to the bargaining table in mid-November.  If you are a community supporter and want to learn more about working conditions at YVR, come and meet our airport members.  For more information, contact Mike Biskar at mbiskar@unitehere.org.