VANCOUVER - Hundreds of unionized workers at Vancouver International Airport have voted in favour of a strike, with the union warning that such a walkout could happen as early as the Labour Day long weekend.

The airport quickly stressed that a strike vote is a routine step in labour negotiations, citing the facility's long history of labour peace to assure the travelling public there is — at least, for now — no immediate threat to operations.

The dispute involves about 300 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, who provide services such as emergency response, international arrivals customer care, passenger loading, runway maintenance and lighting, general maintenance, and administration. The workers are members of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, a division of the public service alliance.

The workers held a vote last Thursday, with 83 per cent casting ballots in favour of a strike. The vote automatically triggers a 21-day cooling-off period, said union vice-president Dave Clark, meaning the earliest the workers or employer could trigger a strike or lockout would be just before Labour Day.

Clark said the main issues are what the union considers concessions that the airport wants in a new contract, particularly around wages for trades people and procedures for contracting out work. The union also wants new provisions to allow some workers to extend their daily hours in order to work four days a week instead of five.

In Clark's assessment, the union and the airport are far apart.

"The employer is asking for what we feel are major rollbacks, and until they take those off the table ... these members are not going to accept it," he said.

"Fundamentally, we're on opposite sites."

Clark warned that strikes at other airports, such as in St. John's, N.L., and Fredericton, caused flight cancellations and delays.

Robyn McVicker, the airport's director of communications, noted that currently, the labour dispute is not affecting operations and she said the airport is confident both sides will be able to avoid a strike or lockout.

McVicker declined to comment on the specific issues in the contract negotiations.

"We're open to negotiations and we're looking forward to a fair and equitable resolution," McVicker said in an interview.

"This (a strike vote) is really part of a negotiation process," she added, arguing that strikes and lockouts simply aren't part of the "history of the airport."

"There was one strike, back in 1998, and it lasted for not even a week."

Still, McVicker said the airport will prepare a contingency plan. Part of that process will be working with the union to determine essential levels of service in the event of a strike or lockout.

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