Dear friends and colleagues,
I’m writing you this late-night letter while sitting at a hotel desk, drinking green tea and listening to an old album by U2. I apologize in advance for the length of this message, but I have a lot to get off my chest tonight. I hope you’ll indulge me for a few minutes.
I’m now in Calgary; today (Thursday) was the third full day of Ratification Roadshows, held in front of a large and enthusiastic group of mainline members from YUL base, followed by a second presentation to local Rouge members. It was a lively crowd, and our exchanges were passionate. I’m happy to say that the meetings went very well, and all of the participants were respectful throughout. So many well thought-out questions were asked – it really seems like the detailed answers and explanations we provided helped to clarify many issues and misconceptions, and reassure most members who may at first have been doubtful about this agreement.
This may sound a little simplistic, but I’m a big fan of democracy in the workplace. I love that we are within a system where everybody is entitled to their opinion, along with the freedom to exchange with others, persuade each other, sway the conversation, and influence our future. It’s chaotic, sure, and there are definitely some problems in the way information can occasionally get mishandled along the way, but in the end, we’re so incredibly lucky that our community gets to speak, act, vote, and make changes. So many other professional groups don’t have this luxury.
There are eight democratically-elected members of your Bargaining Committee. Myself, Edith, Anna, Antonius, Denis, Allison, Guillaume and Ally. Put together, we represent all of our crew bases: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, and Rouge. We’re all flight attendants and service directors. Put together, we have a grand total of 177 years of service as Cabin Crew members, not to mention all of the experience provided by our extended team of Committee Chairs, and our many advisors, lawyers, accountants and other experts which rounded out our team. I think that all this combined experience should give you a pretty good idea of what we brought to the table. I hope that this helps to reassure you that as a group, we’re pretty knowledgeable about the issues that matter to flight attendants.
The same democratic system which put us all in the position we’re in today, as your elected representatives, also granted us the mandate to bargain with the company on your behalf. Your individual desires for our collective future were methodically collected, compiled, analyzed and prioritized to accurately reflect what you wanted us to fight for at the bargaining table. This hard data was systematically studied, quantified and organized to come up with our bargaining strategy, and our goals. And as democratically-elected officers, peers chosen from your own working group, our absolute responsibility is to bring your collective mandate to the table, and use everything at our disposal, and do everything in our power to secure as much as possible from within this mandate.
We knew from the get go that it wouldn’t be easy. All of us had to undergo a great deal of specific bargaining training. We had to carefully study our Union’s past history, evaluate other bargaining groups’ successes and failures, consider the company’s plans for the future, and familiarize ourselves with global economic issues. And we had to take into account our 7,000+ members, their base-by-base issues, and potential problems that may emerge in the years ahead.
Our in-flight community is very passionate, and there is a huge range of varying opinions to be taken into consideration. We have many ongoing issues, an unknown future, and a long history of cumulative past hurts. These collective wounds stem from a loss of trust in our employer following a series of difficult concessions, and from the inevitable issues that come with our ever-changing, hyper-competitive, obsessively cost-cutting airline industry. There are many of us who feel so disenchanted from the past 15 years of turmoil, and whose trust in our employer is so irreparably damaged, that there is no amount of gains that can conceivably be made in bargaining that will effectively repair these unhealed wounds.
But there are also many of us who want to move on. Members who want to be respected and treated fairly, naturally, but who also want to believe that it’s possible for us to regain the trust and pride we once felt towards Air Canada. Members who want to go to work, wear their uniforms and be confident about our future, with a measure of ownership in the company we work for. Members who want to be taken seriously, and who want there to be people at the top who actually care about our concerns. Members who want to rebuild our relationship with our airline, share in our company’s acclaim, and be full, recognized partners in Air Canada’s success, while also participating in its profits.
Our community has hundreds of individuals in both camps, and it has juniors, seniors, new hires and members soon-to-retire. We have new mothers and first-time homeowners, people on reserve and others exclusively flying overseas routes. We have members on mini-blocks, and members doing their best three years of service. Members who commute from far away, members with secondary careers, members who have kids who are also flight attendants… you name it. The amount of diversity in our group is huge – and as such, the diversity of opinions and priorities is also huge. This is what your Bargaining Committee has worked so hard to reflect at the bargaining table for the past 7 long months.
Despite this diversity of opinions and priorities, one overarching, unifying priority has been common to virtually all members throughout this process, as seen in the bargaining survey and the hundreds of emails and suggestions we’ve received in the past three years. Job security. This is what everybody wanted, above all else. It was the top-ranked demand from our bargaining survey, and we put this issue front and center on the bargaining table. And while we fought and obtained a long list of other extremely valuable improvements to our collective agreement, benefits and working conditions, the astoundingly detailed job security plan we managed to secure during bargaining is what we’re most proud of. There’s never been anything like this on the table before, not for us, nor for any other group of unionized flight attendants in the world.
As part of my long-lasting love affair with democracy and general democratic processes, I fully recognize and respect the possibility that our membership’s priorities may have suddenly shifted. Perhaps job security, master seniority recognition, a guarantee against base closures, full bumping rights, flow-through, scope protection and guaranteed flight hour growth are no longer as important to you as they have been over the past couple of years. It’s possible that with the Conservative Government now being removed from power for at least the next four years, your priorities have now repositioned themselves, and items like wage increases, travel privileges or reserve rules have gained in importance, or gone down a few notches.
And that’s the wonderful, unpredictable and chaotic nature of the ratification process. The decision-making power is now back in your hands. You can look at what’s on the table and decide if this is what you want for your future, or if you want something completely different. You’re absolutely allowed to vote no to this Tentative Agreement if you believe that this is a bad deal. In a true democracy, the voters are the bosses. And that’s you. If the ratification vote is ‘Yes’, then we walk forward together, and enjoy w
hat we’ve secured for years to come. If the vote is ‘No’, then my team and I will earnestly go back to the table for you, faithfully represent your democratically-expressed wishes, and fight to secure something different that what’s on the table right now. That’s the deal, it’s what I signed up for, and I’m very comfortable with this reality.
Speaking as a member (because I pay my union dues also!), I’m very much on board with what’s contained in this Tentative Agreement, as a whole. I’ve been working on addressing our long-term job security issues for so long now, and it’s been phenomenal to see our ambitious little plan grow into what’s on the table today. I think that this Tentative Agreement addresses many of our long-standing problems, and that it will significantly improve our work-life balance and our long-term peace of mind. And having seen the many variations on possible deals we could have secured over the past 7 months, and how long and arduous it was for us to lock-in what we have on paper today, I think that what we’ve obtained here absolutely deserves to be ratified.
There are many different opinions about the T.A. out there, particularly on Facebook. I respect this. Whenever we have to vote on something or someone, there’s going to be healthy debate, personal disagreements, ideological conflict, political campaigning and yes, unfortunately there will also sometimes be some propaganda thrown into the mix. I have absolutely no problem with YES versus NO debates, in person or online, but I sincerely hope that most members will be able to carefully distinguish the legitimate, informed arguments from the carefully-scripted political platforms, as subtle as they may be. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out which is which.
Sure, if you focus primarily on individual items rather than the global package, you can take issue with some aspects of the T.A. I understand this point of view. I would have also liked bigger annual raises, a shorter term, a more generous bonus, VSPs, 1:40 on our entire fleet, or further improvements to Reserve, for example. There’s always going to be a list of things that we didn’t get. And yes, there were some concessions. That’s not a secret. There weren’t many, but there were some, and these will have an impact on some of our members more than others. That’s the compromise, and the difficult reality of bargaining – sometimes you have to trade some items for other items which are of higher priority to the majority of the membership. In bargaining terms, it’s referred to ‘redistribution’. But in the end, compared to past rounds of bargaining, there weren’t many such redistributions. The gains we made far outweigh the gives. And the list of what we did get is quite impressive. When we began the process, we were told that some of our demands were impossible, that we would never get them. A master flow through? Our own scope clause? 1:40 on all wide-body flights? A Flicka type flight drop system? Getting per diem instead of boarded meals on many flights? A personal time bank? A 5 hour MMG increase to reserve? And so much more. But it’s in there. There’s a lot to be happy about here.
So now you get to decide. And whatever it is you do decide, I’ll respect, and I’ll go forward with. Your mandate is my job description, and it’s also my job to adapt to your mandate, to roll with the punches, and to make sure that I never lose track of what we, as a democratic community, are willing to fight for. I promise that I’ll never forget this. And this is why despite the fact that I’m very much hoping to see a strong majority ‘YES’ vote to this Tentative Agreement ratification, in a way I would rather see a clear ‘NO’ mandate than a result which is split down the middle, with half of our community angry at the other half. All I ask is that you make your decision having really taken the time to carefully study everything that’s on the table, ask questions, take into account our entire community’s issues, from Juniors to Seniors. And then make the decision for yourselves, based on your own interpretation and your own priorities, not on what on others are telling you to do. And then, whatever the result is, respect each other. We all have different priorities, and one person’s priorities aren’t superior to another’s. If everybody does this, and the results of the vote give us a clear answer, then once again, our democracy has worked, and we can move forward together.
I’d like to thank all of you for regular feedback, your constant enthusiasm, your patience (especially given the length of this letter!), your ongoing passion for our joint future, and for the constant, invigorating support you’ve extended to the eight members of the Bargaining Committee over the past several months. This long process is challenging for all of us, and has definitely been an exhausting and emotional roller-coaster, but I think I can speak on behalf of the entire team when I say how deeply honoured we are to represent such a vibrant, thoughtful and engaging community.
PS: Please come to the roadshows! If you haven’t, you don’t have all of the information you need to make a decision. If you can’t make it in person, don’t worry, we’ll be announcing some virtual roadshows very soon. Just keep an eye on our Facebook page or check your emails regularly.