I receive a lot of emails from members at all bases, and oftentimes these comments or queries are recurrent, with like-minded questions about the same subject coming from many different individual authors.
One such topic is the issue of Rouge. Although we’ve issued many communications, videos and webinars on this matter already, I still receive dozens of emails every month from members who want to know why our Union doesn’t just stop representing Rouge, or why the Union is allowing Rouge to exist, or why Rouge voted on the Collective Agreement.
I recently received one such email from a concerned member, to whom I provided a very detailed response. After reading my reply, the member suggested that I share my response with the membership at large. With their permission, I’ve decided to follow up on this suggestion.
Below you’ll see the email exchange; I decided to share it with you all in the hope that my admittedly lengthy answer would help clarify the persistent confusion on this matter. I’ve removed the name of the member who wrote this email, but the message is otherwise intact. At the tail end of my response, you can read this member’s response to my explanation, along with their suggestion that I share this with everybody.
It’s quite a long reply (apologies in advance), but it contains a lot of critically important information that all of us should understand, as it will hopefully help mitigate much of the disinformation on this topic once and for all. So please, take a few minutes out of your busy day and read the exchange below.
President, Air Canada Component of CUPE
Email received from a Concerned Member on September 29th, 2016
I would like you to address the issue of legality in having the same union represent two opposing factions. One group is paying much higher union dues and is losing jobs and earning potential to the other group and this is a huge conflict of interest. It is also very likely not legal. The mainline flight attendant group is extremely bothered and dissatisfied by this yet you continue to ignore our concerns and continue to represent Rouge only to fill the union”s coffers. Mainline flight attendants have been paying union dues since the inception of the union and still you continue to ignore our pleas to stop representing Rouge.
I have been told by a certain union member that it is not the flight attendants who pay your salary but the company. This sort of ignorance is intolerable. The company pays the union representatives from the membership contributions.Please educate your officers and stop representing Rouge. The fact that the members are allowed to switch between Rouge and mainline is only beneficial to the junior flight attendants. We do not wish to support this hypocrisy nor do we want the same people negotiating for mainline as for Rouge. Yet you refuse to listen to the membership that has been supporting the union from day one.
– From a Concerned Member
My reply, sent on October 4th, 2016
Hi (name removed),
Ok, where to start… You know, I receive an email with some version of this question about once or twice per week. And even though I’m used to seeing this question phrased in one way or another, honestly, I am not sure why this is something that members are still unclear about. Truthfully, your question is a perfect example of how so many of our members are still in the dark when it comes to understanding their Union’s structure.
I think this is fuelled by a lot of long-standing, erroneous information, half-truths and rumours that continue to spread in our community. I won’t lie – it’s pretty frustrating whenever I see this pop up over and over again. No matter how many bulletins, videos, webinars and social media posts the Union issues to explain this matter, there still remains so many people who believe that Rouge and Mainline are separate entities, with separate contracts. Whether that’s due to the fact that approximately half of our members (according to our Mailchimp statistics) don’t read the bulletins we routinely issue to inform and educate members, or because of the fact that there are dozens of extremely politically-motivated individuals furthering this type of propaganda via Facebook (and probably on board airplanes also), I just don’t know.
I do understand where this is coming from though, and I’m convinced that you personally meant well when you wrote me this email. You care about your workplace, your working conditions and your airline, and you’re concerned about Rouge, as most mainline FAs have been for years now. There’s really no shame in saying that the vast majority of Mainline flight attendants wish that Air Canada had never created a low-cost carrier in the first place. We wish that something could have been done to prevent this, even though the Union had zero recourse to prevent AC from starting up Rouge. We wish that some law, process, contract, or past precedent had forced the Company to simply merge all crew members, Rouge and Mainline, along with the destinations, and that everything would work according to our system-wide seniority. And as the months and years pass, we see Rouge get exciting new destinations that we feel should have gone to Mainline (no matter how much Mainline is expanding on its own) and it makes us cringe. I’m a Service Director at Mainline, based in Toronto. So I get it. I understand the emotion that’s fuelling your email.
What I’m trying to say is that what you are asking in your email, or the information you are going by to make these assumptions is just plain wrong. I have to completely deconstruct your message to try and shed some light on this matter and hopefully help you to better understand. So here goes.
1- You say: ‘I would like you to address the issue of legality in having the same union represent two opposing factions.’
I have addressed this numerous times before, in so many different contexts. But I’ll try again. Air Canada Rouge is a part of the one and only Air Canada Component of CUPE Collective Agreement, even though this document does contain a specific subsection which outlines the particularities of Rouge flying. This was all determined back when Rouge was first created, before I was even involved with the Union – it’s how it was structured at the very beginning. Air Canada would have probably been thrilled if Rouge and Mainline had been separated, structured as two Unions – it would have been a big victory for the Company, and would have made it a lot harder for us to protect our jobs and growth at Mainline if Rouge were independent. So we won on that one, big time.
So as I explained, Rouge and Mainline, we’re not two opposing factions, no matter how much frustration there may or may not exist between both groups. It’s kind of like how sometimes one base can be frustrated that another nearby base gets ‘all the good flying’. Like if many Paris layovers suddenly went to Toronto. YUL would be up in arms, and I’d get emails asking me to ‘fix’ this. But nobody from YUL would ever ask me to stop representing YYZ members, because they know that I can’t, no matter how frustrating it is to see flights being shifted from one group to another.
The reality is that Rouge is a Local, just like YUL, YYZ, YYC or YVR. So nobody at the Union has the authorit
y to ‘stop’ representing them. It’s impossible, no matter who is elected at the Union, no matter what people may say on Facebook. All the different bases (or Locals, including Rouge), structurally-speaking and legally-speaking, we’re all considered one Union, one Collective Agreement, one employee group, one vote. This isn’t my decision, or opinion. It’s the legal reality of our structure. Despite what some people continue to further on Facebook, Rouge is NOT a separate Union, they ’didn’t’ vote on Mainline, and Mainline didn’t vote on Rouge, because contractually-speaking, these separate categories just don’t exist – we all just voted together on the one and only collective agreement, without distinction of who was working where. Our Union is like an Octopus – Component is the head, and then you have five tentacles: Toronto local, Montreal local, Calgary local, Vancouver local, and Rouge.
Basically, there are ZERO options to separate Rouge from the rest of the Union, nobody can do this, no matter what they want. And anybody involved at the Union has a duty of fair representation to all of the members, from all our locals, including Rouge. We’re obligated and duty-bound to represent all members. It’s not a choice.
2- You say: ‘One group is paying much higher union dues and is losing jobs and earning potential to the other group and this is a huge conflict of interest. It is also very likely not legal. The mainline flight attendant group is extremely bothered and dissatisfied by this yet you continue to ignore our concerns and continue to represent Rouge only to fill the union”s coffers. Mainline flight attendants have been paying union dues since the inception of the union and still you continue to ignore our pleas to stop representing Rouge.’
We all pay Union dues, and it’s a percentage of our salary. This is how it’s always been, and this is how it works in pretty much every Union out there. If you earn a lower salary, like if you’re junior, you pay less, because the percentage of a lower number will always be less than the percentage of a higher number. So yes, Seniors pay more in Union dues than Juniors do, because they earn more money. Seniors also see higher deductions taken towards their pensions, towards WIP, towards income tax, and yes, towards Union dues. So one group is not paying ‘higher union dues’ – we all pay the exact same percentage.
Mainline is not losing jobs – we haven’t had any layoffs, and our new Collective Agreement protects Mainline from layoffs in a way that we’ve never seen before. Our jobs are significantly more secure now than they’ve ever been. Our contractual job security is unprecedented in the worldwide Airline Industry, and it’s something we’re extremely proud to have secured during collective bargaining, because it was the members’ top priority given to the Bargaining Committee. Remember back when everybody was making a Plan B because everybody thought everything was about to be shifted to Rouge? Well, that can’t happen anymore. There’s not going to be Mainline job losses to Rouge like we witnessed at Quantas and Jetstar, because we obtained guarantees against this very real possibility during bargaining. Your salary and your seniority are protected from any such scenario, as improbable as that scenario may be. Also, if Rouge had been a separate Union and employee group from Mainline, as is the case with Air Canada Express for example, then we would have had no say, no influence, no merged seniority, and no protections. Another big victory we all won during Collective Bargaining.
So despite what some people persist in thinking, and no matter how uncomfortable some of us may be as a result of this structure, there is no conflict of interest, and there’s nothing that’s ‘very likely not legal’. Is it an unusual structure? Sure. But legally-speaking, it’s just about the best-case scenario out of a huge number of significantly worse scenarios that could have happened when Rouge was created.
And as far as ‘filling the Union’s coffers’ – well, our Union is a non-profit organization. We’re not allowed to make a profit, or accumulate wealth. You can verify all of this with the Secretary-Treasurers at your Local or at Component, or with the Trustees that verify our finances. What the Union owns is owned by the membership. That’s right, you are one of the owners of your Union. The coffer you speak of, well, it’s your coffer.
3- You say: ‘I have been told by a certain union member that it is not the flight attendants who pay your salary but the company. This sort of ignorance is intolerable. The company pays the union representatives from the membership contributions.’
You’re partly right here, although it seems as though you believe something nefarious is going on. The reality is that our Collective Agreement provides for the flight releases of many Union Officers, at Component and at the Locals. This was negotiated a very, very long time ago, way before my time. Despite what you may think, this is a good thing. The flight releases of full-time Union officers cost a lot of money, and if the Union had to pay all of these out of our members’ dues, we would either be financially crippled, or have to make significant increases to Union dues to cover the additional expense. As is the case with everything in our Collective Agreement, it’s a gain, something that the Company agrees to give us (like releases for Health & Safety representatives, or PBS, or an annual stipend to buy shoes), which we bargained for and won.
But the Company does NOT pay Union representatives from the membership contributions. The Company is contactually obligated to allow flight releases to a number of Union officers and Committee members without charging the Union for said releases. Believe me, the Company would much prefer not to have to pay for all of these flight releases. So it’s a gain for us, an important one, one which has been in place for decades.
4- You say: ‘Please educate your officers and stop representing Rouge.’
See my answer to #1. I’m sorry, but we can’t stop representing Rouge. We can’t, it’s impossible, it’s simply never going to happen, not unless the Company were ever to decide to abandon Rouge, in which case our members would be folded into Mainline, according to seniority (yes, another gain from our last round of Collective Bargaining). If you personally campaign to be Component President during the next election, thinking that if you’re elected you’re going to just stop representing Rouge, I promise you, it’s never going to happen. It’s illegal. You couldn’t do it. And even if you somehow tried, well, you or the Union could be sued, removed from office, put under administration, or something awful of the sort. Again, there’s nothing anybody can do to separate Rouge from the Air Canada Component of CUPE. We have to stop thinking that this is even possible.
5- You say: ‘The fact that the members are allowed to switch between Rouge and mainline is only beneficial to the junior flight attendants.’
Sure, I suppose that’s mostly true. Juniors will benefit much more from the flow-through then seniors will. Just like our more junior members mostly benefit from the increase of Reserve MMG of 70 hours to 75 hours, which we secured in bargaining last year. Our Collective Agreement is filled with items and gains that will sometimes benefit juniors more, sometim
es benefit seniors more, sometimes both (like paid meal expenses) depending on scheduling, seniority, lifestyle choices, etc. The flow-through is one gain out of many, many other gains in our CA. The upcoming Trip Trade system is likely to benefit seniors over juniors right now, because when it first launches, members on Reserve won’t really benefit from it. Same for time banking, or the improvements to our Pension calculation. Seniors will also benefit more from the $5,000 amount we all received, because anybody doing their 3 best years will see this pensionable amount increase their overall monthly pension payments when they retire. If you want to decompose the entire CA to see what item benefits juniors over seniors (or vice-versa), go ahead, it’s a fun exercise. I’m actually very proud that we have a Collective Agreement that has significant improvements for members of all seniority levels.
Also, when you think about it, the Flow-Through pretty much benefits everybody, because it helps to officialize our Master Seniority list between Rouge and Mainline, which recognizes when we were hired at Air Canada. So if at any time in the future there are severe economic woes and layoffs at any group, our positions will be protected no matter where we end up working, according to our seniority.
6- You say: ‘We do not wish to support this hypocrisy nor do we want the same people negotiating for mainline as for Rouge. Yet you refuse to listen to the membership that has been supporting the union from day one.’
Again, we’re one group, one Union, one Bargaining Unit, like it or not. I wasn’t Component President when the Rouge-Mainline structure was established. My own opinion doesn’t even matter here. I inherited this structure, and I’m legally and professionally obligated to respect it, as will be anybody else occupying this position in the future. Doing otherwise would be illegal.
I listen to the membership all the time. You should see my email inbox and outbox. Consulting our members is why Edith and I spend time in Comm Centres across the country almost every month, meeting directly with members. It’s why we hold so many live webinars, and it’s why we recruited a group of volunteer Communication Ambassadors. We’re focused on listening – really listening – to the membership, more so than any previous Component executive, and never deviating from our mission to represent our entire membership to the best of our capacity, no matter what happens, no matter how much work is involved.
If you have any doubt about this reality, I invite you to come and spend a day with me at the Component Office. Come and see what we do, how much work we put into our membership. Or come and see me at the Comm Center when I do my base visits and have a real honest conversation with me.
I understand your frustration (NAME REMOVED), and I know that things aren’t perfect – they never have been, and probably never will be. But things are getting better for our group right now. We’re emerging from a long, dark, difficult period, and finally starting to reap the rewards with regards to job security, growth, improved working conditions, augmented income, and other important gains. I know it’s hard, but try not to buy into all of the gossip or political manipulation you see on Facebook. There’s SO much misinformation, unacknowledged pre-electoral campaigning, personal grudge venting and opinionated ignorance being propagated there. Unfortunately, the reality is, the moment you step into an elected Union position, (especially at Component) some people automatically decide you’re the enemy, put a target on your back, and will devote an inordinate amount of time, energy and keyboard pounding to discredit you, your colleagues and the work that you all do, for a variety of mixed motives.
Why? Sometimes it’s because they lost past elections, or because they supported somebody else who lost in past elections. Sometimes it’s because they’re angry about a workplace issue and feel that the Union must be responsible, or maybe they lost their faith in the Union many years before and can’t put this past hurt aside. Perhaps they’ve been repeatedly exposed to rumours or mistruths about their Union, Bargaining or the Collective Agreement on Facebook, or from a convincing friend or colleague who is also repeating what they themselves read on social media. And sometimes… well, sometimes people just don’t quite understand what really happens in the Union, and how much this hard-working peer group actually accomplishes on behalf of our colleagues each and every day.
And not understanding, well, that’s actually kind of understandable, ironically. Our Union is complex; there are so many personalities, dynamics, relationships, histories, ambitions, legalities, internal conflicts, impromptu emergencies and long-standing issues involved, and SO MUCH WORK happens behind the scenes of the Union that nobody ever really hears about. Sadly, all of this online mock-righteous propaganda has a very real effect on our membership. It demoralizes while also promoting ignorance, division, hostility, mistrust, and furthers the idea that the Union is somehow a bad thing. Which it truly isn’t.
People sometimes say ‘CUPE’ as if it were a thing, a machine, or some sort of questionably-motived entity. But it’s not. CUPE, for us, is first and foremost a large ensemble of motivated Air Canada Flight Attendants and Service Directors who independently decided they wanted to do more than complain. Fellow crew members who cared enough to get involved, to learn, to contribute, to speak out on behalf of our professional community, to influence our workplace, and to be a part of our constant evolution.
And then there’s Facebook. Well, for all of the good that Facebook has done to help us mobilize, share useful information and advice, and build community amongst each other, it’s also played a big part in how we’ve seemingly become stuck in a perpetual, self-destructive rut. All of this nasty crabapple politicking is compounded by the fact that Facebook disproportionately represents a minority of squabbling individuals who perpetually blur the lines, who try to tarnish the efforts of others, especially whenever a vote is on the horizon, and particularly when there are numerous new voters to be swayed (have you noticed how many hundreds of new members we have, enthusiastic new colleagues who’ve probably never before been exposed to the sheer amount of negativity that dominates Facebook?). Disagreement and debate is healthy, but much of the coordinated, baseless disparaging you can read online during these periods is anything but.
This has been made even more confusing by the fact that a select few Local officers within our own Union are oftentimes themselves deliberately puppeteering some of the fear mongering and mudslinging we see online, which obviously confuses our members, as they try to separate fact from fiction, and where to position themselves in this salacious electronic popularity contest. I don’t much like drawing attention to this fact, because these actions are simply unbecoming of Union officers, and whenever these boundaries are crossed, I feel a measure of shame for the fact that our system is apparently incapable of self-regulating itself.
Unfortunately, Component and Local elections are only a few months away, so expect to see more and more of this behaviour, no matter how often I encourage people to take the high road, to be respectful with each other. I’ll admit it – I find it exhausting. It’s not a game I’ve ever been keen to play.
Understandably, the vast, silent majority of intelligent, well-meaning, reasonable thinkers in our members
hip, well, they mostly refrain from diving into the worst of the muck we often see on some of our online forums. People tell me all the time how awful Facebook has become, and how they just can’t stand reading these forums, especially during ‘political’ times. I really don’t blame them.
So that’s it, that’s as far as I can go on this topic for now. Again, thank you for taking the time to write. I really apologize for the length and wordiness of this reply, but I had to get it all out. So if you’ve made it this far, thank you for your tenacity. I sincerely hope I’ll get to chat with you in person about all of this some day soon.
PS: Despite what the disclaimer at the bottom of this email says, please feel absolutely free to share this email reply to your colleagues – yes, even on social media – or otherwise. Heck, bring a printout with you on board your flights and invite people to read my reply if you like.
Reply from member, October 4th, 2016
Hello Michel. Thank-you very much for taking the time to send me such a complete and explanatory e-mail regarding Rouge. You are quite right when you say that many members do not understand the union”s role in representing Rouge.I am certainly one of them. You have done an excellent job of clarifying this for me. As for Facebook, I, personally, have never logged into that website. My misinformation comes solely from talking to other flight attendants. It is frustrating to watch some of our favourite destinations going to Rouge-e.g. Athens. That being said, I will put my trust in you to continue protecting mainline job security. I will trust your expertise and experience to protect mainline flying and job growth in the future.My suggestion would be that you send the same e-mail that you just sent me to all mainline flight attendants. I think that it would be very helpful and very much appreciated by everyone. It is very positive and informative and I would like to thank-you very much for taking the time to compose it and send it to me. Please keep up the good work and thank-you for your patience and generosity.
Click HERE for a printable, and downloadable, version of this bulletin.