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Work-to-rule by Garda workers creates havoc at Pearson airport

A work-to-rule protest by security screeners at Toronto's Pearson International Airport has wreaked havoc with flight schedules.

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

Angry passengers have reported lineups of one to four hours. Unionized workers at Garda, which has the contract to do screening for CATSA, staged a work-to-rule protest Friday, marking the third consecutive day of slowing down processing by staring at X-ray monitors and further stalling by using metal-detector wands on every passenger and inspecting each carry-on bag.

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"Garda is now looking at their legal options. They have contacted the Canada Industrial Relations Board," CATSA spokesman Mathieu Larocque said in an interview, adding that Garda's lawyers want the CIRB to enforce its Thursday ruling that was supposed to compel the Canadian Airport Union Workers to halt the job action.

The protest is over Garda's plans to implement a new bidding process for work shifts, said Mr. Larocque, who noted that preclearance checkpoints add to the wait times.

The failure to resolve the labour dispute by about 1,500 Garda staff at Pearson has sent ripples across Canada's airport system, resulting in widespread flight delays and some cancellations just as the busy Thanksgiving weekend travel period gets under way

"Rather than running away from its responsibilities and finding others to blame, CATSA should immediately get involved and find a solution before even more Thanksgivings are ruined," said Duncan Dee, Air Canada's chief operating officer. "It's outrageous that CATSA is trying to blame others."

Mr. Larocque said it's unfair to single out CATSA. "We are very much involved and we support Garda and its legal actions. We also support Garda at the checkpoints to mitigate the impact on passengers," he said.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. spokesman Robert Palmer said the Calgary-based company, like other carriers at Pearson, has watched passengers endure long waits.

"To this point, delays have been somewhat varied, with longer lines on the transborder side than on the domestic side," he said in a statement. "WestJet guests are advised to check the status of their flight before leaving for the airport, and arrive earlier than normal in the event they experience delays due to long screening lines."

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Scott Armstrong, a spokesman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, said Pearson officials are disappointed by the work slowdown.

"People have been waiting a very long time to get through security screening," he said. "Garda and CATSA got an injunction on Thursday, but unfortunately, there are still slowdowns."

Garda said it hoped the screening process would "return to normal" as early as Friday night, aided by managers. "Garda is doing everything it can to mitigate the effects of the work slowdown at Pearson airport. Our managers are on the line assisting with the screening process to ensure passengers are screened as efficiently as possible and working relentlessly to improve the current situation," the company said.

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said late Friday that she has appointed a mediator to help resolve the impasse.

"I expect the union and its membership to implement the decision issued by the Canada Industrial Relations Board on Oct. 6, 2011, and to cease and desist from participating in any further unlawful strike activities, and to resume service levels at Pearson International Airport," Ms. Raitt said in a statement.

Steven Fletcher, the minister of state for transport, added that Ottawa is "pursuing alternative measures to ensure that passengers and baggage can be properly screened."

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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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