Air Canada slams union

Company accuses CUPE of bargaining in bad faith, demands compensation

By CRAIG WONG The Canadian Press   Fri, Oct 14 – 5:03 AM

Air Canada demanded compensation Thursday from the union representing its 6,800 flight attendants, accusing it of bargaining in bad faith.

The airline, which did not specify how much it was seeking, said the Canadian Union of Public Employees did not do enough to encourage the ratification of two tentative deals that were negotiated but later rejected.

“Though the company was given assurances of unanimous support from the CUPE leadership for the first tentative agreement, individual base presidents remained silent or expressed views against ratification during the ratification process,” Air Canada alleged.

In the unfair labour practice complaint to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, Air Canada accused the union of increasing its demands during its latest round of bargaining and misrepresenting what its members would accept in a collective agreement.

“CUPE made these representations to Air Canada without having conducted any formal surveys of its membership. It is Air Canada’s understanding that CUPE’s conclusions were based solely on emails and reviews of Facebook discussions,” the airline said of the union bargaining committee’s assurances.

Jeff Taylor, president of the Air Canada component at CUPE, said Thursday he believed the deal reached with the airline, under the threat of back-to-work legislation, was the best one possible.

“We had a great deal, but under the circumstances we were bargaining under, with the legislation hanging over our heads, realistically here we are,” Taylor said. “My members clearly said it still wasn’t enough and they have the right to do that and I respect them for that.”

Air Canada and its unions have had rocky relationships for years, even before the country’s largest airline restructured under bankruptcy protection in 2003-04 and won concessions from workers to reduce costs.

The allegations of bad faith bargaining Thursday came as members of the union protested at the airport in Montreal and at the constituency office of federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt in Milton, just north of Toronto, after a planned strike was blocked just hours before it was set to begin.

The union cancelled its strike after Raitt referred the dispute to the industrial relations board on Wednesday, effectively quashing the job action.

Sid Ryan, head of the Ontario Federation of Labour and a former senior CUPE leader, attended the rally and said Raitt has “trampled the rights of workers who have made incredible sacrifices for the company.”

“It is outrageous that the Harper government is interfering in the collective bargaining process to tip the balance in favour of a greedy employer,” Ryan said.

The sentiments were echoed by the Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents customer service staff at the airline.

“Canadian democratic values are being stomped on by the Harper government,” said CAW president Ken Lewenza. “They are not concerned about the destructive labour relations climate they’re fostering in Canada.”

In Ottawa, police were looking for a man who showed up at an Air Canada executive’s home Wednesday night with what appeared to be a handgun.

Police said the man didn’t threaten to kill Duncan Dee, the airline’s chief operating officer and its main spokesman during the airline’s latest contract dispute, but they were looking to talk to the unidentified man.

At the airport in Montreal, where more than 100 flight attendants demonstrated, passengers were mixed in their opinions about whether the minister should have intervened.

“The government meddles a bit too much,” said Kerry Jess, who arrived from Vancouver on an Air Canada flight.

But Joe Wery, a businessman who flew in from Toronto on an Air Canada flight, said the airline was an essential service.

“(My employer) limited my access to airlines and Air Canada is the choice we have, and failing to fly Air Canada you’re pretty much limited to what you do in business across the country,” he said.

CUPE has negotiated two contracts with Montreal-based Air Canada in the last three months, but both have been rejected by the flight attendants.

The workers are angry about the airline’s plans for a discount carrier that would require lower wages for new hires, and the company’s position on pensions and other work issues.

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