Air Canada flight attendants at the ballot box

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The Globe and Mail
Brent Jang, Transportation Reporter

Air Canada (AC.B-T1.31-0.17-11.49%) flight attendants are in line for raises under a tentative deal that calls for increased pay during shifts with stopovers. The question is whether they think it’s good enough.

Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, who are voting this week on the proposed contract, must decide whether the improved work rules for “duty days” and other gains are enough to merit casting their ballot in favour of the pact.

In the collective agreement signed between union negotiators and management on Sept. 20, a new system for calculating “paid time” boosts the payable hours during stopovers. For example, some shifts that factor in layovers last 13 hours and currently pay out 6.5 hours of wages. But that will rise to nine hours of wages, effective Oct. 1, 2012, based on the formula dubbed “duty day minus four hours.”

The union bargaining team also landed wage hikes of 9.3 per cent compounded over the four-year tentative agreement – 2 per cent in each of the first three years and 3 per cent in the final year.

CUPE is urging its members to ratify the tentative deal. “The duty period guarantee is a huge gain,” CUPE said in a memo to its 6,800 Air Canada flight attendants. “It will be credited toward your monthly hours, which means you will fly less with more days off.”

Under the tentative pact reached just hours before the strike deadline, CUPE is making an important contribution toward reforms to make pensions “more secure and sustainable,” the memo said. New flight attendants will go into hybrid plans that blend defined benefit and less costly defined contribution pensions – modelled after a system devised by the Canadian Auto Workers union, which won an arbitration case affecting new Air Canada sales and service agents.

CUPE negotiators caution that if the proposed deal is rejected, it is unlikely that bargaining would resume. The federal government is poised to intervene with back-to-work legislation to ward off any renewed strike threat.

The 10-day ratification vote began Sept. 30 and will end Oct. 9. Management and union officials are both watching anxiously, after CUPE members overwhelmingly rejected the first attempt at a collective agreement in August.

This time around, CUPE has withdrawn its support for Air Canada’s plan to create a discount leisure airline that would introduce lower wage scales. Flight attendants have criticized the low-cost carrier proposal, but CUPE leaders say the union still maintains the right to represent the new hires, should management decide to launch the discount division.

At union meetings and through social media, many workers expressed concern over other revisions to the tentative pact. Some gains made in August’s proposed contract were taken off the table in September’s round of talks, notably the removal of clauses allowing the banking of time for vacations and the deletion of new rules that would have cleared the way for premiums for certain on-call shifts covered by junior-level flight attendants.

As well, Air Canada currently covers the cost of hotel rooms on stopovers of five hours or more, and had offered in August to shave it to four hours or more, but has shelved the proposal.

CUPE’s previous contract expired March 31.

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