Robyn Benson, PSAC

Freedom of speech and the Porter Airlines strike

porter workers in strike.JPG

The strike against Porter Airlines by 22 sisters and brothers of COPE Local 343 who refuel planes on Toronto Island has now entered its fourth month.

As I noted back in March, this is a young bargaining unit, having organized just last year. And they have been up against formidable odds.

The Toronto Police and the Toronto Port Authority’s private cops have harassed the young strikers. Their attempts to rally, picket and leaflet have been met with force—two arrests—despite the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that airports are public places for picketing purposes.

Porter Airlines and the Toronto Port Authority have also attempted to use the muscle of the courts to shut down the strike. In April, they were unsuccessful in their attempts to win a far-ranging injunction against leafleting at the airport and picketing in a public park by the ferry docks where passengers leave for the Island Airport.

Carrie Sharpe, who has been helping coordinate the strike, is clear about the abuse of the injunction process:

This is an attempt to shut down dissent. Porter is trying to discourage dissent at a time when they have an application to have jets fly out of the airport and to fill in some of the lake. This injunction process has already had a chilling effect on mobilization, there will be people afraid now to protest island expansion. The very ambiguity of the injunctions is in itself a weapon. They are doing all this in order to shut down protests over use of public assets for profit.

And it gets worse. After their April defeat in court, Porter immediately launched a $4 million lawsuit against the union for alleged “defamation” in the social media. They are particularly upset with the union’s inventive use of the social media—like Twitter (@porterstrike).

Porter wants to squelch the union with what is commonly known as a SLAPP suit—a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. The intent is to use corporate deep pockets to intimidate ordinary people from exercising their legal rights. Renowned civil rights lawyer Clay Ruby will be defending the union against this serious attack on free speech.

Meanwhile, are Porter and the striking workers negotiating? Nope. Last week the union made a proposal to get the workers back on the job. It was flatly refused.

It would have cost $20,000 to settle the strike. But Porter would rather spend many times that to smash the union. The company refuses to negotiate, preferring to waste its considerable money on expensive legal games and blatant attempts to remove the union’s Charter rights to freedom of expression.

But by the sounds of things, all of this attempted intimidation is only making the workers more determined. We had better realize, however, that this fight is our fight too. If the people we confront across the table only have to call on the courts to muzzle us instead of negotiating in good faith, then we no longer have collective bargaining, but dictatorship.

Don’t fly Porter. Keep up the solidarity. And speak your piece on Twitter and elsewhere.

Don’t let these people shut you up. A lot more is up for grabs here than the struggle of one small bargaining unit in Toronto. Our hard-won union rights are at stake. Exercise them!

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on May 30, 2013 8:20 AM.

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