MONTREAL - Air Canada's flight attendants have given their strike notice and could be off the job as early as Wednesday.
The notification was delivered to a federal mediator Friday evening, and sets the clock ticking for a showdown between 6,000 flight attendants and Air Canada (TSX:AC.A).
There's still a possibility that the two sides can reach a deal that avoids a walkout or lockout at Canada's largest airline.
The flight attendants, who are represented by a branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, are in a legal strike position about 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
They were also required to give a 72-hour notice of their intention to strike, although that requirement was met with Friday's announcement.
"Negotiations are ongoing and we still hope to come to an agreement with Air Canada," Jeff Taylor, president of the Air Canada component of Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Earlier in the day, federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said in an email that she would call both sides for a meeting in Ottawa if no deal was reached by the weekend.
"I had a conference call with parties Wednesday evening. My message was that we want them to get a deal that can be ratified by membership. And if they can't get a deal then I asked them to find a process to get them to a deal. And if after the weekend they haven't progressed, I want to see them face to face Monday."
Raitt's email added that she thinks "both parties understand the effect that a work stoppage has on the economy and will work hard to get a deal."
The Montreal-based company is Canada's largest air carrier, which operates across the country and has major continental and international routes.
The union's members overwhelmingly voted to give their union a strike mandate, less than a month after they rejected a previous tentative agreement reached by their negotiators.
The flight attendants, who have been without a contract since March 31, have been negotiating with the assistance of a federal mediator.
Industry analysts believe the government will move quickly to introduce back-to-work legislation if a strike occurs, especially since a strike by flight attendants would have a bigger impact on the airline than the three-day strike in June by customer service agents represented by the Canadian Auto Workers
The CAW union and Air Canada reached a negotiated settlement after Raitt announced legislation that would have sent the two sides to arbitration.
The public experienced little, if any disruption, during the CAW strike but the government said the strike threatened the economy.
The economic situation has since worsened, with suggestions that Canada could become the first G7 country to slip into recession after experiencing negative growth in the second quarter.
Air Canada has yet to disclose its contingency plans in the event of a strike, but has said it would operate a partial schedule with the help of its codeshare partners.
On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Air Canada's shares hit a 52-week low on Friday but later gained five cents to close at $1.62.