If you think winter is long, try being a flight attendant in the Arctic, where you might have to endure 21-hour days without ever seeing the sun.
Thats the reality for flight attendants on First Air, Canadas Arctic airline, but theyre hoping it will change soon.
The CUPE members have just begun negotiating a new contract, and shorter duty days are high on their priority list. Its not just hard physically, says Mary Lou Cherwaty, president of the First Air component, which represents the 114 workers. Its also hard psychologically.
The flight attendants are based in Ottawa, Edmonton and Yellowknife, and fly across all three territories with 200,000 passengers a year. Were all front-line safety professionals, says Cherwaty. Were on board for the safety of passengers, and were the ones who deal with them the most. Cherwaty says not enough flight attendants are choosing First Air as a career, but she hopes that will change with a better collective agreement that includes a defined pension plan and a raise in maternity benefits.
First Air flight attendants are also hoping to get their first meal expense increase in nine years. The costs up north are horrendous, says Cherwaty. We cant eat on the money that we get.
Cherwaty also wants the airline to pay for flight attendants uniforms. Currently, only the first uniform is free, and flight attendants must pay 50% of the cost for all subsequent uniforms. The uniforms belong to the company, but we pay for them. Its really not fair, she says.
One of the key issues for flight attendants is a reinstatement of purser positions. Solo flight attendants are currently doing the same duties as in-charge flight attendants (or pursers) but arent getting the $8/hour top-up.
Cherwaty is hopeful that contract negotiations will proceed in a professional manner, with both sides showing respect for each others interests. She says a better contract will lead to happier workers who choose to stay with the company, which will in turn contribute to even better service for passengers.
Hopefully, it will also mean a bit more daylight for workers.
First Air has been owned since September, 1990 by the Quebec-based Makivik Corporation. CUPEs current three-year contract expires October 16.