2011 Air Canada Negotiations
As the President of this wonderful Local 2002 Union, I thought it important to review our challenges and success at Air Canada negotiations. In February of this year, our Air Canada agreement expired. As a result we entered negotiations with a commitment to use all of our energies and skill to bargain a solid and progress collective agreement, on behalf of our members. There can be no debate that over the last number of years, our members have been under extreme pressure and have been through what can only be described as a roller coaster, starting with CCAA protection, fighting to maintain our pension during this process and then from that point, attempting to get back our past gains that we lost over this period. Our leadership and membership were ready to take on the enormous challenges that we knew, we would be faced with in 2011 bargaining. The corporation tabled numerous concessions and attempted to gut our pension plan.
In preparation for what we thought would be a significant challenge with Air Canada, the entire local union worked hard to prepare our members for what turned out to be inevitable, a strike for the first time in 26 years at Air Canada. With a lot of energy and hard work, the District Chairs, Vice-Presidents and rank and file activists put together a plan of action that included respective responsibilities and communication tools that had to be in place to prepare our membership. In addition, we worked closely with the National Strike Department and the leadership of the CAW. The first task at hand was to meet our members in the workplaces, review the demands of the employer and ask our members for a solid strike vote, which they delivered in mass numbers. The strike vote of 98.2 percent gave the bargaining committee the confidence to look Air Canada in the eye and demand progress in this round of bargaining.
I want to compliment Sean Smith and all the strike captains across the country, who on Monday, June 13th at 23:59 marched our members out of the workplaces and onto the picket line. I believe our membership understood that this decision to withdraw their labour was the only way that we would once again, put Air Canada on notice that in this round of bargaining, concessions were absolutely unacceptable. I want to express on behalf of the bargaining committee and myself, as we watched the picket lines over the three day dispute, it was amazing to see the support not just from our members but from the CAW Local Unions and National Staff across the country and of course, the broader labour movement including the Canadian Labour Congress and all of the other Labour Federations across the country. The Airline unions, CUPE and IAM put their jobs on the line and gave Air Canada a tough message that the unions were in solid support of our members across the country. All of these actions were made of true solidarity and undoubtedly led to a successful conclusion.
The ratification vote of 87.7 percent was an amazing result and we cannot thank our membership enough for their solid support once again. By every measure it was an excellent agreement, where we bargained wage increases, regained workrules and bargained back our paid lunch.
The key issue that led to the strike was Air Canada’s demands on our pension plan. In the face of government interference, we were able to come to a conclusion that both protected our members pension plan and put in place a mechanism to defend the right of new members to a defined benefit plan.
We are currently meeting with our pension department and legal counsel in preparation for the arbitration. Part of the process includes an agreement between Air Canada and the CAW, that Kevin Burkett, a well known arbitrator will be selected to hear the case. Part of this process includes mediation arbitration in which both parties are obligated to name a sides person as part of this panel. The decision by the arbitrator must be delivered no later than August 19th, 2011. Mediation will occur on July 22nd, 2011 with a hearing date scheduled for August 4th, 2011. We will keep our leadership and membership informed on the final disposition. I firmly believe that our membership realizes the importance in ensuring new members of Air Canada must continue to have the right to a decent pension plan and we believe our arguments are sound in protecting this important principal.
As National President Ken Lewenza and our total leadership have expressed, the unprecedented interference by the Federal government remains absolutely unacceptable. This is a prime example of the power of corporations today. It is clear what they cannot attain at the bargaining table, they turn to their friends in government to use their powers in an attempt to gut workers important gains including pension plans. Our Air Canada membership should never forget what this government attempted to do to our pension plan. If they were successful the entire pension plan of our members would have been at the mercy of an arbitrator. I cannot say enough about the skill of our National President, National Staff and our Bargaining Committee to find a solution prior to the legislation being presented in the House of Commons. I am encouraging our leadership and membership to voice their opinions strongly in support of other workers that are facing similar back to work legislation. We cannot forget that the first act of the Harper government and the majority situation was to try and diminish our bargaining power and bypass the important principal of free collective bargaining.
Air Canada Bargaining Committee
I fully realize through this document I have thanked your bargaining committee but I think it is worth repeating. Despite we went through bargaining committee elections in the middle of negotiations, I made a decision wit the bargaining committees full support to bring in the newly elected three members of the bargaining committee. I believe its important that our membership get a full appreciation, that although this was a challenging decision, it turned out to be the right one. The committee put their political differences aside and worked as a team to secure our new agreement. There are no words to express my appreciation.
I also want to recognize and compliment Brother Paul Janssen, the Chair of the Master Committee. His vast experience and keen mind, led us through hundreds of hours of debate and discussion on how we can best position ourselves against Air Canada’s concessions. Working with Sister Leslie Dias, National Staff Representative, Paul engaged the entire committee with dignity and respect on their points of view and delivered numerous resolutions to our gains in this agreement. Paul has notified me that this is his last round of negotiations and I want to wish him on behalf of our total Local union, all the very best.
In closing, I believe that it is important that we recognize this wonderful victory as a stepping stone to improving the working lives of not only the members at Air Canada but our total union. We have learned without a doubt, that fighting back does make a difference. Our leadership and membership now have the confidence that we will continue to demand being treated with fairness, dignity and respect in the workplace.
In appreciation and solidarity,
Local 2002 President