Air Canada files complaint against flight attendant union

Airline claims union conducted bargaining in bad faith

Air Canada has filed an unfair labour practice complaint against the union representing its flight attendants, a day after the cabin crew called off a strike just hours before it was due to start.

Canada's biggest airline says it believes that the last tentative contract agreement reached on Sept. 20, 2011 was rejected by union membership as a result of "bad faith conduct during the bargaining process" by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

The airline says that since bargaining began in April 2011, they have presented two offers that have been unanimously recommended by the bargaining committee. Despite the endorsements, however, both agreements have been turned down by membership at ratification votes.

The airline is seeking damages to compensate it for losses incurred as a result of the union's actions, Air Canada said in a statement.

The airline claims the union is in violation of the Canada Labour Code, as follows:

a) presenting modified demands at the bargaining table which added costs to their initial proposal and which widened the issues in dispute rather than narrowing them;

b) tabling demands that it portrayed to Air Canada as being sufficient to meet its membership's demands;

c) representing to Air Canada that it knew what its membership's demands were in order to obtain successful ratification of a new collective agreement;

d) failing to deploy all necessary efforts, as represented to Air Canada, to obtain ratification of the last tentative agreement.

Air Canada's flight attendants canceled their planned strike on Oct. 12 after the federal government asked the labour board to intervene in the dispute.

Employees were ordered to stay on the job while the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) looks into the dispute between Air Canada and the union that represents its 6,800 flight attendants.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt is asking the board to determine whether the airline is an essential service that must keep operating to ensure the health and safety of Canadians. Raitt is also seeking to determine wither the rejection of the two tentative agreements recommended by the union created “conditions that are unfavourable to the settlement of the industrial dispute.”

On Friday, CUPE responded to the charges, terming them "ludicrous." According to CUPE national president Paul Moist, "This is just another transparent attempt to stall the flight attendants' legal strike until back-to-work legislation can be put in place."

The union also indicated that the CIRB would hear this complaint at the same time as the Minister's essential services and frustrated bargaining applications.

- with files from Reuters

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