Air Canada, unions prepare for negotiations

Pension underfunding continues to concern parties

As the expiry of their collective agreements at the end of February or the end of March approaches, the five unions that represent employees at Canada’s national airline are preparing to present their demands.

The bulk of the 26,000 unionized Air Canada employees belong to the Canadian Auto Workers (customer service staff), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (cabin crew) and the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (mechanics and ground crew).

Bargaining with the CAW, whose contract expires first on February 28, is set to begin on February 11. Among the demands received from the membership in preparation for negotiations, “wage increases, paid lunch breaks, vacation, sick time and benefit improvements consistently topped the list,” according to the union’s bulletin.

Also of worry to the CAW is the health of the pension plan. “Air Canada is again raising concerns about the funding of the pension plan. This is not surprising given that they have made minimal funding contributions.” Union agreement to the funding moratorium made in 2009 when the airline was under bankruptcy protection was instrumental in its financial survival.

The IAM has completed tabulating bargaining surveys and is preparing demands; no meetings have been scheduled with the company. CUPE’s Airline Division has not made any announcements regarding its bargaining position either.

The IAM had a setback recently when the Canada Industrial Relations Board accepted Air Canada’s argument that its transfer of heavy maintenance work to Aveos Fleet Performance was a sale of a business and that the two are not a single employer, as the union asserted. As part of the division of the two companies, Air Canada offered 1,500 separation packages that provide severance of two weeks’ pay per year of service to a maximum of 52 weeks.

Aveos employees will be represented by the IAM and will be covered by a collective agreement identical to their previous Air Canada agreement.

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