The last three months have been unprecedented in the history of the Airline Division. Every member, whether employed by the main line carriers, the regional carriers or charter carriers, has been put through one of the most unsettling experiences any CUPE member has experienced.
In August, when the federal government loosened restrictions on competition, the government unleashed a bitter public battle between Air Canada and Canadian over the proposed ONEX takeover. Rather than set policy for the future of the airline industry in Canada, the government sat back and watched the corporations battle it out. CUPE has been fighting this position of the government all along stating that airline policy must be set democratically with public debate, not in corporate backrooms.
The crisis has created very serious divisions amongst our members at each airline. CUPE National has been working with the Airline Division to keep the focus on the government and its repsonsibility to workers and the travelling public rather than falling into the trap of supporting one corporate solution over another.
To that end, I initiated a meeting with the Minister of Transport, David Collenette, at the end of September together with the Airline Division and the component leaders from several airlines. However, the Minister refused to provide the assurances which CUPE feels are necessary to protect members. Appearing at special hearings of both the Senate Committee on Transportation and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transportation, we have continued to press the government to take action by establishing a clear air transportation policy that protects jobs, service to communities and establishes appropriate regulation for a viable airline industry into the next century.
The government continues to remain silent while 40,000 airline workers are subjected to tremendous uncertainty. On Monday November 8, we placed full page advertisements in both The Globe and Mail and La Presse to push these points on behalf of CUPEs 9,000 flight attendants.
The latest development in the airline restructuring saga is the cancellation of all Inter-Canadien flights on Saturday November 27. At the time of writing, it is unclear what is going to happen to the 141 members at this regional carrier that provides service to many communities in eastern Canada. It is clear however, that this is another casualty of the government sitting back while the market plays games with the future of the airline industry in Canada.
CUPE will continue to fight for the rights of flight attendants. Specifically, we will be looking to negotiate an agreement with any newly-restructured corporation that respects the rights that our members have worked so many years to attain. Any agreement must protect pensions and pension surplus, wages, and cover the future expansion of the airline industry, which will include protection of future jobs, by preventing the export of these job opportunities to foreign nationals. We are also deeply concerned about Air Canadas plans to create a new “low-cost” carrier (our members call it “AIR CHEAP” or “AIR CANADA LITE”) which is intended to be a low-wage carrier and will no doubt be used to try and bring down the wages and benefits of flight attendants at other airlines.
As this report is being printed, we have just learned that the Board of Canadian Airlines is recommending acceptance of Air Canadas buy-out proposal. We will be meeting immediately with the Airline Division and all components to strategize about our next moves and how best to protect all our members with the “new” Air Canada.
Against this backdrop, negotiations have commenced at Air Ontario and First Air. While both of these sets of negotiations are in their early stages, both show signs of being long struggles.