Air Canada mechanics, baggage handlers reject deal

Union members vote 78% in favour of striking
By Nicole Mordant and Allison Martell
||Last Updated: 02/23/2012

(Reuters) — Air Canada's 8,600 mechanics, baggage handlers and cargo agents have rejected a tentative contract agreement with the country's biggest airline, a union spokesman said, marking another setback for the carrier during a year of rocky labour relations.

Some 65.6 per cent of the members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) who took part in the ballot voted against the agreement, union spokesman Bill Trbovich said.

At the same time, 78 per cent voted in favour of giving union negotiators a mandate to strike, Trbovich said.

However, an airline sector analyst said he did not expect the union, which is Air Canada's largest, to call a strike.

"I don't think that's a very likely outcome ... I expect to see both sides return to the table," PI Financial analyst Chris Murray said, pointing out that union members had not overwhelmingly rejected the contract.

Trbovich said union negotiators were likely to meet to discuss their next move.

Air Canada issued a statement saying it was "business as usual" and that it was "confident that there is sufficient time for the parties to avoid a disruption."

Ashley Kelahear, spokeswoman to Canada's Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, said the minister was disappointed that the sides had not reached an agreement and was encouraging them to continue bargaining.

The union announced on Feb. 10 that it had reached a tentative labour deal with Air Canada. The proposed four-year contract provided wage increases, improved benefits and secured a defined benefit pension fund for workers.

The agreement was reached with the aid of a government-appointed conciliator, retired judge Louise Otis. Otis was subsequently appointed by Labour Minister Raitt to mediate in tough labour talks between Air Canada and its pilots, which are ongoing.

The rejection by the mechanics union is the latest in a string of contracts turned down by union members at Air Canada over the past year.

The airline faced a shortlived strike last year by its ticketing and sales agents and just averted another strike by flight attendants when the government stepped in to halt it.

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