Air Canada pilots pulled the plug on a scheduled ratification vote on Friday over a new contract deal after members made it clear they weren’t happy.
The tentative deal, reached last month, has been described by some as a dramatic rewriting of the collective agreement that includes new provisions for a proposed low-cost airline.
At issue are flying times as well as the creation of a two-tier pension system, where new hires would fall under a defined contribution plan unlike the current defined benefit plan. Wages at the low-cost airline would also be substantially lower.
This news comes just as Canadians are finalizing their summer vacation plans, and any threat of labour unrest could make some travelers think twice about booking.
Air Canada is keen to have a settlement in place with its 3,000 pilots, as it negotiates with other major unions that represent flight attendants, customer service agents and mechanics.
The airline industry’s recovery remains fragile amid rising fuel prices. Air Canada, which has struggled in recent years, reported in February that for its full fiscal year it had a net profit of $107 million, compared to a loss of $24 million in 2009.
With many facets of the collective agreement touched by proposed changes, members made it clear they had concerns so the vote was cancelled, said Air Canada Pilots Association Paul Strachan.
A meeting of top union officials is scheduled for next Tuesday to figure out next steps. “They’ll have a look at the expressed concerns and see what’s valid, what can be worked through and how do we move forward,” Strachan said, adding a return to the bargaining table is possible.
Even though the collective agreement expired on March 31, no strike vote has been taken yet, and pilots will continue to fly and service will not be affected, Strachan said.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick added, “We can’t comment how they may choose to proceed with the ratification process as this is an internal matter for ACPA.”
As union executives were travelling the country this week to brief its members on the tentative deal, Air Canada announced in a proxy circular to shareholders that CEO Calin Rovinescu’s total compensation jumped nearly 77 per cent to $4.6 million last year.
While some might be upset by those numbers, Strachan said he doesn’t believe that news caused the current situation.
Union members are clearly upset by this round of bargaining. Some are so angry with the tentative deal that they have started a petition to recall Bruce White, chair of the association’s master executive council.
The petition says: “Due to the dysfunctional and ineffective Master Executive Council that has misguided our Negotiating Committee, we the undersigned active members of ACPA, wish to exercise our constitutional right to vote on the recall of Bruce White as ACPA MEC chair.”
The online petition, whose signatures still need to be verified, exceeded 1,300 on Friday. Under union rules, if 30 per cent are confirmed, then a recall vote could be ordered.
“It’s a separate issue,” said Strachan, although he conceded such a move would be “pretty rare.”