Arbitrator issues Air Canada flight attendant decision

Union calls decision disappointing, airline pleased with outcome
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 11/07/2011

An arbitrator has reached a decision that establishes a new collective agreement with Air Canada and its flight attendants.

The arbitration award imposes the same provisions as the tentative agreement which was rejected by the union on Oct. 9, 2011, according to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents the 6,800 flight attendants. At the time, the union voted 65.2 per cent against accepting this offer.

The president of CUPE, Paul Moist, calls the ruling “profoundly disappointing” and says this decision serves as a warning for unionized workers in Canada to prepare for continued attacks from the federal government on unions.

“Flight attendants deserve better than this decision. They deserve better treatment from Air Canada, and they certainly deserve better from their federal government,” says Moist. “Awarding flight attendants an agreement they rejected a month ago does not in any way address serious workplace issues and flight attendants are rightfully disappointed and angry.”

Air Canada says the ruling means the airline and its flight attendants can focus on the future.

"Air Canada is pleased with this final and binding decision to implement the terms of the second tentative agreement that was reached with CUPE's democratically-elected leadership in September," says Air Canada CEO Duncan Dee. "The implementation of a new collective agreement with our flight attendants ends a period of uncertainty for our customers and will allow Air Canada and its employees to move forward together."

A strike was averted in October after Canada's Minister of Labour took the unusual step of asking the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB), a quasi-judicial tribunal that administers and interprets parts of the Canada Labour Code, to intervene. The Conservative government has repeatedly said that the country's fragile economy cannot afford a strike at Air Canada, which flies passengers and cargo to more than 175 destinations on five continents.

Both parties agreed that sending outstanding issues to be decided by an arbitrator was the best way to resolve the contract dispute. The arbitrator was asked to rule on wages, working conditions, pensions and Air Canada’s desire to start a low-cost airline.

An arbitration ruling earlier this year implemented a hybrid pension plan for the airline’s newly-hired customer service members, who are represented by the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Union.

These rulings are expected to set a precedent for contracts with the Air Canada’s remaining contract negotiation with its pilots, machinists and other unionized employees.

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