VANCOUVER—The flags had barely been rolled up and the placards put down this morning, after the country’s final boisterous solidarity rally in support of Air Canada’s 6,800 flight attendants, when an agreement in principle was reached between the airline and the union, represented by CUPE’s Air Canada Component.
The tentative deal—which ends the threat of a strike that had been looming over Air Canada in recent weeks—was reached early this afternoon (Tuesday) after flight attendants held rallies in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver.
The face of Air Canada
At today’s final rally, several hundred people formed a “purple wave” (flight attendant colours) as they marched from the Air Canada Operation Centre at Sea Island skytrain station to Vancouver Airport station. There, rally coordinator Matthias Meier fired up the crowd by reminding everyone of flight attendants’ importance to Air Canada.
“We are the front line of safety and security for the flying public,” said Meier. “We are the face of Air Canada.”
Pointing to the sacrifices flight attendants had made over the years—including accepting wage freezes to help the company avoid bankruptcy—Meier dismissed the notion that flight attendants live “glamorous” lives.
“There’s no glamour in wages below the poverty line. There’s no glamour in having no breaks on long flights,” he said. “There’s no glamour in fearing your pension plan will not be what you had hoped. The only glamour, it seems, is in executive bonuses.”
There were loud boos at the mention that Air Canada president and CEO Calin Rovinescu earned $4.6 million last year—including $1.4 million in Air Canada shares and $156,400 in retirement benefits.
CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill, who is in Ottawa this week, sent greetings that were read to the crowd by local vice president Alison Kjertinge.
“Air Canada needs to understand that without the front line service that flight attendants provide, it would be nothing,” O’Neill said in his remarks.
“Flight attendants have done nothing but give and give – and now it’s time for Air Canada to give back. Air Canada needs to understand that our working environment must be healthy and safe and recognize that you, too, have families that expect you to return home unharmed. And Air Canada needs to recognize that all time at work is ‘paid time’.”
BC Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair, pledging the labour movement’s support for the flight attendants, noted that most Canadians don’t realize that flight attendants don’t get paid for the hours they spend in the Operations Centre—only for flight time.
Also in attendance were BC NDP MLAs Shane Simpson (Vancouver-Hastings) and Harry Bains (Surrey-Newton). Simpson, the NDP’s caucus chair, reinforced the need to reach a fair deal through free collective bargaining.
Union will recommend acceptance
In Ottawa, CUPE’s Air Canada Division president Jeff Taylor said that the union’s executive committee would recommend that its members accept the tentative agreement. He added that details about the deal would be made public only after the contract has been ratified by the unionized workers.
To approve the new contract with Air Canada, the union will submit the tentative agreement to members nationwide. General meetings will thus be held in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. The consultation process will take at least one week. In the mean time, the Union has lifted the order to strike and asks members to respect their regular schedules and assignments.
The new labour contract was hammered out after marathon talks that began on August 31. Both sides were assisted by two mediators from the federal Labour ministry.
In August, the flight attendants rejected a first tentative agreement by 87.8 per cent. They later voted 98 per cent in favour of a strike mandate. Flight attendants have been without a contract since March 31, 2011.
CUPE represents nearly 9,500 members in air transport, including workers for Air Transat, Calm Air, Air Canada, Canadian North, CanJet Airlines, Cathay Pacific, First Air and Porter.
–with a file from CUPE National