Air Canada appeals arbitration ruling on pensions

Customer service reps exploring further job action

The president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) says Air Canada’s customer service workers are exploring further job action after the airline filed court documents to appeal an arbitrator’s decision on pensions for new hires.

UPDATE: Air Canada withdraws appeal on pensions decision

Air Canada says arbitrator Kevin Burkett’s decision in September 2011 to accept the union’s proposal to put new hires into a “hybrid” pension plan that combines the airline’s defined-benefit plan with a defined-contribution plan is unfair. The airline claims this offer was made after each party submitted what was supposed to be their final offers.

“The board’s jurisdiction was expressly limited to selecting one of two final offers and it exceeded that jurisdiction when it selected a third offer which was not a final offer,” Air Canada said in the application filed in both federal and Ontario courts.

The union says Air Canada agreed to allow the CAW to replace its final offer and that the airline, too, made changes to its final offer. The union says that the company’s complaint may mean the union is in a position to take further job action which could include work-to-rule campaigns or even a strike.

“These guys think they’re bigger than the law, they think they’re bigger than collective bargaining and obviously I think it impedes the kind of relationship moving forward,” CAW president Ken Lewenza told the Canadian Press.

Air Canada’s 3,800 customer service agents staged a three-day strike in June 2011. The union and the airline reached an agreement before back-to-work legislation, prepared by the federal government, could be debated in Parliament. The two parties agreed to send the issue of pensions for new hires to a mediation and arbitration process after they were unable come to an agreement on the matter.

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