06/17/2011 10:13 EDT | Updated 08/17/2011 05:12 EDT

Air Canada Strike Ends, Airline Set To Return To Full Speed


CBC -- Picket lines are down and travel ease expectations are up Friday as Air Canada customer service and sales staff are set to return to work Friday, a day after a tentative agreement was reached three days into a walkout.

The tentative four-year pact between the airline and the Canadian Auto Workers union representing the 3,800 workers created some slowdowns and delays for travellers, but no major upheavals.

A ratification vote is expected in the next two weeks, although dates haven't been released yet.

The tentative pact addresses quality of life issues and retains a defined-benefit pension plan for current workers.

CAW union president Ken Lewenza said there would be "very slight modifications" to the existing pension plan, but noted none of those modifications will go into effect until 2013.

However, Lewenza said, the issue of what type of pensions new hires will receive — a sticking point in negotiations — will go to arbitration.

"I want to begin by saying sincerely to future workers at Air Canada, we regret that we were not able to put in our collective agreement your desire to have a defined benefit plan," Lewenza said Thursday.

"We have agreed to send that issue to arbitration."

Air Canada wanted new hires to be included in a defined-contribution plan instead of the defined-benefit plan that current employees have, because that would potentially save the airline money.

Chief operating officer Duncan Dee said the airline was "very pleased" to have reached a tentative agreement with the CAW.

"The agreement will help ensure the long-term sustainability of Air Canada while maintaining industry-leading compensation and benefits for our employees," he said in a statement.

News of the tentative deal came shortly after the government tabled back-to-work legislation.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said she was pleased with the way the process unfolded and congratulated CAW and Air Canada for "putting the public interest first."

"I know that putting the legislation on the order paper and following through in process today was a tool that was needed in order to focus the parties and narrow the issues and get them to where they are," Raitt said.

Lewenza, however, reiterated his criticism of the legislation at a news conference Thursday, saying there "should not have been any intervention by government."

"We believe we could have gotten an agreement — maybe even quicker than today — without the intervention of government. Because we were awfully close prior to the government introducing legislation."