In the process, the 5,000 flight attendants at Air Canada, members of CUPE’s Airline Division, proved they had a better analysis, a stronger strategy and more commitment than the corporate managers of the country’s major airline.
The main issue was pensions, with an aging cabin crew (45 per cent have 20 years service or longer) facing retirement income below the poverty line. The company wanted contract concessions as well. “The flight attendants’ demands were completely reasonable,” said Component president Pamela Sachs, “in a company where labour costs are down, productivity is up and revenues are increasing”.
Backed by a 94 per cent strike mandate in May, the Component bargaining committee stood tough and professional. When the company insisted two weeks before the strike deadline that its latest offer be put to a vote, the flight attendants turned out in large numbers to reject it by 89 per cent.
“It’s the best settlement I’ve seen in years,” said Airline Division president Denise Hill about the new contract, which provides wage increases of 5, 4 and 3 per cent over three years, excellent pension improvements, and healthier and safer working conditions with no concessions. “Those members should be so proud. They stood up, from the most junior flight attendants to those with real seniority.”