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CUPE has been pulling out all the stops to protect the jobs of flight attendants at Air Canada, after the airline moved to cut 1,868 positions in the coming weeks. National President Judy Darcy, Division officers and the executive officers of the Air Canada and the CAIL components have been working together closely to stall the employer’s layoff plans while putting together a package that can be presented to the federal government.

Our objective is clear,” said Judy Darcy. “We’re looking at every option to protect our members from layoffs. Flight attendants have already borne more than their fair share of the turmoil in the industry. If the employer and the government work together, we believe not a single flight attendant who wants to keep flying needs to lose their job.”

After Air Canada’s announcement that 280 flight attendants will receive temporary layoff notice on Wednesday October 3, CUPE is meeting today and tomorrow with federal officials to work out a stabilization package that will assist flight attendants who want to leave, while easing the impact for others.

This package would also provide support to flight attendants at Air Transat who are also facing layoffs.

Anxious week

The talks follow another week of feverish developments in the airline industry.

On Wednesday, Air Canada announced plans to reduce its mainline workforce by an additional 4,000 positions on top of the 4,000 that had been announced in August. They also announced 55 aircraft would be removed from the mainline fleet.

On Thursday, CUPE National President Judy Darcy and Division President Frano0069s Bellemare joined leaders from other unions in meeting with Transport Minister David Collenette. Their purpose was to demand federal action to stabilize the industry, including an assistance package that would ease the transition for flight attendants who are looking to move on or take a leave.

Then on Friday, CUPE learned the employer had applied to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board to begin negotiations for a new collective agreement immediately, force the immediate integration of seniority lists and gut our layoff protections in order that it could proceed quickly to layoff 1,868 flight attendants beginning Monday. The Board agreed to hear this application in an extraordinary Saturday morning session.

CUPE’s response to this outrageous action was swift and strong. Working closely with the leadership of the Division and the Components, Judy Darcy contacted officials in Collenette’s office and Labour Minister Claudette Bradshaw demanding that they intervene to stop this hearing.

She also spoke with Air Canada president Robert Milton and with Pat Heinke, VP responsible for human resources, refuting the company’s claims that CUPE was unwilling to meet, and calling for immediate discussions on a stabilization plan to be presented to government.

Unable to avert the hearing, the National President, Division officers and Component executives – some travelling from across the country to be in Toronto on a few hours notice – along with their counsel, senior CUPE staff and a number of flight attendants were present before the Board Saturday morning. The employer was represented only by their lawyers, as senior company representatives arrived only mid-day. As well, the IAMAW and CAW were represented.

CUPE’s delegation made a strong impression with the Board, presenting a solid, united front in opposition to the employer’s plans. The lawyer representing CUPE National and the Airline Division, Michael Church, reminded the Board of its duty to consider the employees and their rights, and not just the employer’s interests.

Judy Darcy delivered a clear message that CUPE was willing to enter into discussions with the employer on an urgent basis to address the crisis in the industry. But the union was not willing to open our collective agreements, and would not give up its job protections or allow the Board to integrate seniority lists. She outlined the steps CUPE has taken in good faith to comply with previous Board orders and rejected the employer’s claim that we were unable or unwilling to meet.

Counsel for both components strongly endorsed CUPE’s position that there was no reason for the Board to consider this application, as did the lawyers representing other unions.

The employer was clearly on the defensive, claiming the crisis in the industry required a urgent response but unable to show they had made any serious effort to sit down with CUPE to work out a solution that would protect workers.

Discussions begin

Two meetings with the employer were held Saturday evening and discussions continued throughout the day Sunday.

We delivered a clear message to the employer that we’re not here to take away job protection, by-pass seniority integration arbitration or open our contracts,” said Judy Darcy. “We’re here to get the answers we need to put together a package to present to government.”

CUPE is pressing the employer for information that will allow us to cost out a package that could include voluntary severance, early retirement, work sharing and other steps to mitigate job losses. A team of experts on pension plans, work sharing arrangements and other measures has been assembled to develop a proposal to put before government and the employer.

Elements of the plan will be presented to officials from Human Resources Development Canada on Monday and to the HRDC Minister, Jane Stewart, when Darcy and Division president Frano0069s Bellemare meet with her on Tuesday.

Things are happening so fast that I know it’s difficult for members to follow events,” said Darcy. “Media headlines are adding to the anxiety and there’s no doubt that with this employer, it’s difficult to have any confidence.

But it’s important that members know we’re working hard on their behalf and that the Division officers and Component executives are working closely together to ensure that everyone’s interest are protected.”

For information as the situation unfolds, visit cupe.ca, airdiv-cupe.org or the component web sites.