Battle over commitment lands at Viking Air

Employees at North Saanich aircraft company threaten strike over lack of contract

Talks continued Wednesday between the Canadian Autoworkers Union and Viking Air after the union issued 72-hour strike notice Monday. The deadline was today at noon.

“We’re building a whole new company here. We’ve been in a developing program to return to Twin Otter production for the last two, three years,” said Viking president and CEO David Curtis. “Now is not the time to be risking a lot of the something like 400 jobs that we’ve added here.”

The North Saanich company restarted production of the de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft in 2010 and will be the only manufacturer of complete aircraft in Western Canada.

“We need to build a company that’s built to last,” said Curtis. Some things in the bargaining they “just aren’t going to be able to do,” he said.

CAW Local 114 represents 270 workers at Viking Air including aircraft mechanics, machinists, sheet metal mechanics, painters, welders and labourers. The most recent collective agreement expired Oct. 31, 2010 and workers voted 94 per cent in favour of strike action on Oct. 28, 2011.

“The biggest issue is whether or not the company is willing to put in place contractual language that the company is committed to Victoria and Vancouver Island,” said Gavin McGarrigle, CAW national representative.

Curtis argued the growth from 150 to nearly 600 jobs and investment in the North Saanich site shows commitment to the area.

“The company is essentially saying trust us, look at what we’ve done in the past,” McGarrigle said. “We’re asking for contractual language not verbal promises.”