Air Canada machinists to fight anti-strike bill in court

Union says bill violates freedom of association under Canadian Charter
||Last Updated: 04/02/2012

(Reuters) — The union representing 8,300 Air Canada machinists will take the Canadian government to court over a law preventing a strike or lockout at the airline, on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), which represents mechanics, baggage handlers and cargo agents at Canada's biggest airline, said the recently passed bill violates freedom of association, a fundamental right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"Removing free collective bargaining and the right to strike from workers in the federal sector will poison labour relations between our members and Air Canada for years to come," said IAMAW Canada vice president Dave Ritchie in a statement.

"The government did not allow the free collective bargaining process to run its course."

The government bill, passed March 15, prevents Air Canada from locking out machinists and its pilots union, and it stops the two unions from striking. The legislation also sends contract disputes between the airline and the two unions to binding arbitration.

The union representing Air Canada's pilots has already launched a similar court challenge to the legislation.

Despite the bill, ground workers staged short-lived wildcat strikes on March 23 that disrupted dozens of Air Canada flights and created chaos at airports in Toronto and Montreal.

The walkouts were triggered when the airline suspended three workers at Toronto's Pearson International Airport for allegedly clapping derisively at Canada's labour minister as she walked through the airport.

Unions are also angry that while the legislation was passing through Parliament, the government averted work stoppages by asking a federal tribunal to determine if the airline is an essential service. No labour action can be undertaken while the board is deliberating.

At that time, Air Canada was prepared to lock out its 3,000 pilots at the same time the machinists' union was poised to strike. Either work stoppage would have grounded the airline during the busy March Break travel period, when many schools across Canada are closed.

Air Canada faces further pressure after its aircraft repair spin-off, Aveos Fleet Performance Inc, shut down March 20, laying off 2,600 workers.

Unions and opposition members of Parliament are pressing Ottawa to force Air Canada to maintain the aircraft overhaul facilities that were shut down. They say the bankruptcy puts Air Canada afoul of a law that requires it to keep fleet service stations open in three Canadian cities.

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