On Friday, the Globe and Mail reported that flight attendants at Hong Kong’s Cathay Airlines are threatening to withhold food, alcohol and even smiles from passengers during the Christmas holidays because of a pay dispute with the airline. The story made me wonder whether a Canadian union would ever threaten this same kind of job action and whether such activity would constitute a “strike” under labour relations legislation in Canada.

It is well established that a “strike” under Ontario and federal labour law principles encompasses more than just walking out and picketing your employer. In the right circumstances, any concerted activity that is designed to restrict or limit output can constitute a strike. The classic examples are “work to rule” campaigns, slow downs and concerted refusals to work overtime. Even if employees ordinarily have the ability to refuse overtime work, a concerted effort to do so can constitute a strike that can only be engaged in after certain procedural requirements are met by the union. More unusual examples of partial withdrawal of services from past labour board cases include postal employees refusing to verify sufficient postage on mail and railway employees stopping trains to conduct prolonged safety inspections in the absence of legitimate safety concerns. In both cases, employees were found to be engaging in strike activity.

It seems to me that for employees in public-facing roles whose ordinary job duties include serving food and alcohol and being friendly and smiling at customers, refusing to do so on a concerted basis would restrict or limit output and could constitute a strike under Canadian labour law.