OTTAWA - A federal arbitrator has sided with Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) in its labour dispute with the union representing its pilots.
Douglas Stanley selected Air Canada's final offer — a five year collective agreement effective until April 2016 — following negotiations with the Air Canada Pilots Association that took place over a 19-month period.
"This agreement preserves our pilots' compensation and benefits in the top quartile of the North American industry and will help ensure the sustainability of the company's defined benefit pension plans," said Calin Rovinescu, Air Canada president and chief executive officer.
The airline was poised to lock out the pilots earlier this year, but the move was short-circuited by the federal government, which passed legislation blocking either side from initiating job action and imposing a new contract.
The move was angrily received by many of its 3,000 pilots, and was followed by pilots calling in sick on more than one occasion, disrupting the airline's schedule and angering passengers. The pilots had complained that the legislation forced them to fly and accept a contract imposed by arbitration in contravention of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Captain Paul Strachan, president of the ACPA and Captain Jean-Marc Belanger, chair of the association said Monday the outcome will only add to pilots' anger at the way they've been treated by both the government and Air Canada, which will drag the airline's future performance.
"Federally-imposed arbitration could not and did not bring about a negotiated collective agreement, which would lead to the energized and motivated professional pilot group Air Canada needs to succeed," they said in a statement.
"Instead, arbitration has imposed work rules that will cost many pilots their jobs, demoralize the rest and kick other important issues years down the road, where they will fester and undermine any effort to achieve positive culture change at our airline."
Stanley, a labour lawyer who was New Brunswick's deputy minister of labour, was suggested as a candidate by both sides.
Rovinescu said the agreement will give the company the flexibility it needs to compete.
"The conclusion of this, the last outstanding agreement with our main labour groups in Canada, brings closure to a long and difficult round of labour negotiations," he said.
"Our focus can now turn to moving forward with our employees to complete Air Canada's transformation into a solidly profitable airline for the benefit of all stakeholders," said Rovinescu.
The airline said it would not provide any further comments as details of the agreement are being communicated to employees.
Air Canada has been beset by labour problems for most of the last year with all of its major unions.
Last month, a federal arbitrator sided with Air Canada in a long-standing labour dispute between the airline and its unionized machinists, imposing the company's final contract offer, a five-year deal that includes pension changes for any new hires.
Last year Air Canada ticket agents and customer service staff staged a brief strike before reaching a deal after Raitt threatened to legislate them back to work. Raitt also pulled levers behind the scenes when flight attendants rejected a tentative agreement and held a strike vote.
Labour Day: A Canadian Invention
Few Canadians realize it, but Labour Day is as Canadian as maple bacon. It all began in 1872, when the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike to demand a nine-hour workday. When <i>Globe and Mail</i> chief George Brown had the protest organizers arrested, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald passed a law legalizing labour unions. Thus, a Conservative prime minister became a hero to the working class, and Canada became among the first countries to limit the workday, doing so decades before the U.S. The typographers' marches became an annual event, eventually being adopted by the U.S., becoming the modern day Labour Day.
The Winnipeg General Strike
The end of World War I brought social instability and economic volatility to Canada. On May 15, 1919, numerous umbrella union groups went out on strike in Winnipeg, grinding the city to a halt. Protesters were attacked in the media with epithets such as "Bolshevik" and "Bohunk," but resistance from the media and government only strengthened the movement. In June, the mayor ordered the Mounties to ride into the protest, prompting violent clashes and the death of two protesters. After protest leaders were arrested, organizers called off the strike. But the federal mediator ended up ruling in favour of the protesters, establishing the Winnipeg General Strike as the most important strike in Canadian history, and a precursor to the country's modern labour movement.
The Regina Riot
During the Great Depression, the only way for a single male Canadian to get government assistance was to join "relief camps" -- make-work projects set up by the federal government out of concern idle young men were a threat to the nation. The relief camps, with their poor work conditions, became breeding grounds for communists and other radicals. The "On-To-Ottawa Trek" was organized as a protest that would move from Vancouver across the country to Ottawa, to bring workers' grievances to the prime minister. The trek halted in Regina when Prime Minister R.B. Bennett promised to talk to protest organizers. When talks broke down, the RCMP refused to allow the protesters to leave Regina and head for Ottawa, and on June 26, 1935, RCMP riot officers attacked a crowd of protesters. More than 100 people were arrested and two killed -- one protester and one officer.
In May, 1938, unemployed men led by communist organizers occupied a post office and art gallery in downtown Vancouver, protesting over poor work conditions at government-run Depression-era "relief camps." In June, the RCMP moved in to clear out the occupiers, using tear gas inside the post office. The protesters inside smashed windows for air and armed themselves with whatever was available. Forty-two people, including five officers, were injured. When word spread of the evacuation, sympathizers marched through the city's East End, smashing store windows. Further protests against "police terror" would be held in the weeks to come.
Giant Mine Bombing
In 1992, workers at Royal Oak Mines' Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories went on strike. On September 18, a bomb exploded in a mineshaft deep underground, killing nine replacement workers. Mine worker Roger Warren was convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder. The Giant Mine closed in 2004.
The Toronto G20
The Canadian Labour Congress, representing numerous labour groups, participated in protests in Toronto during the G20 summit in June, 2010. When a handful of "Black Block" anarchists rioted through the city core, it brought an overwhelming police response that resulted in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. More than 1,000 people were arrested, with most never charged with any crime. Numerous allegations of police brutality have been made, and the Toronto police are now the target of several multi-million dollar lawsuits. So far, two police officers have been charged with crimes relating to G20 policing, and charges against other police officers are also possible.
When Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters suggested the public "occupy Wall Street" to protest corporate malfeasance, New Yorkers took the suggestion seriously, and occupied Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. Canadians followed suit, sparking copycat occupations in all major Canadian cities in September, 2011. By December, most of the occupations had been cleared, all of them non-violently. Though the protests achieved no specific goals, they did change the political conversation in North America. What their long-term legacy will be remains to be seen.