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Airline caterers go on strike, affecting travellers on flights via Pearson airport

More than 800 airline food service staff at Toronto's Pearson airport went on strike Tuesday, leaving thousands of passengers without meals.

More than 800 airline food service staff at Toronto's Pearson airport have gone on strike, potentially leaving thousands of passengers without meals. Travellers make their way through Pearson International Airport in Toronto Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

More than 800 airline food service staff at Toronto's Pearson airport went on strike Tuesday, leaving thousands of passengers without meals.

Gate Gourmet employees voted 96 per cent against an offer from the Swiss-owned travel catering company on Monday night, Teamsters Canada said.

The workers cook, package and deliver food and beverages to planes for in-flight service.

"Our members are trying to survive this cost of living crisis and support their families through these difficult times. That's what this is about," said Martin Cerqua, lead negotiator for the union local.

He said employees are asking for a living wage and earnings on par with workers across the country.

For example, Gate Gourmet employees who unload tray carts and wash dishware and cutlery at the Vancouver airport make $6 per hour more than their co-workers at Pearson, he said.

"We’ve fallen so far behind," Cerqua said from the picket line on the fringes of the airport.

"It’s a dirty, difficult, physically demanding job."

Gate Gourmet is the largest airline catering company operating out of Toronto, with clients that include Air Canada, WestJet, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines.Owned by Gategroup, it operates in more than 135 locations in 33 countries, according to its website.

The caterer said in a release that its latest offer was "fair and market-competitive."

"Gate Gourmet Canada is disappointed that the union's refusal to continue to negotiate has led to a strike this week," it said.

"We encouraged our valued employees to vote in favour of the offer, which addresses their expressed desires regarding wages, benefits and working conditions at the unit — including a 12 per cent pay raise over three years."

Gate Gourmet added that it established contingency plans for clients "to minimize any impact on them and their passengers."

Air Canada said short-haul flights will be most affected.

Economy-class customers on flights under two hours will receive a pretzel or cookie along with water, while those in business class will not enjoy their usual hot meal service. Passengers on flights over two hours within North America can grab a snack and beverage, with alcohol and some meal options available for purchase.

"We do not anticipate an impact on our international flights" —  the U.S. not included — said Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick in an email. Impacted customers will be notified, he added.

WestJet said flights operating through Pearson on Boeing 737 planes — the vast majority of its fleet — may experience "an inconsistent food or beverage offering" starting Tuesday.

"We are advising guests travelling to or from Toronto to plan ahead and bring an extra snack and/or beverage for their journey," said spokeswoman Madison Kruger in an email.

For transatlantic flights, the airline is giving customers an "alternative option" or vouchers to buy food at the terminal before departure, on top of free pretzels or cookies onboard, she said.

Companies in this story: (TSX:AC)

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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