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The Air Transat flight attendants are holding an important meeting this week in Quebec City. Coming from as far away as Vancouver, the members all converged on the Quebec capital at the end of the day Sunday for a summit meeting that will end on Friday. On the agenda are discussions with former members of bargaining committees on the issue of retirement, and various training sessions.

On Sunday evening, the president of CUPE Québec, Lucie Levasseur, spoke to our Air Transat members. Here are some excerpts from her speech.

“I know that you will soon be entering into negotiations yourselves. This is when solidarity and mobilization take on their full meaning. We will come back to that later. We never have any guarantees as to the results of our negotiations, but the guarantee I can personally give you is that CUPE will be there for you. In your profession, whether you are working on a transient, temporary, or permanent basis, get behind your union team and always stay with them. They work for you and, to get results, they need you. Having said that, as Air Transat flight attendants, you have a very specific mission and your profession is a difficult one. Your work is hard, but you have something to be proud of. And CUPE is equally proud of you. Every year, you are responsible for the lives and safety of thousands of individuals, and the professionalism with which you carry out your duties is a credit to you.

In addition, you work in an industry that has been experiencing for years, the effects of an unstable—even declining, economic situation. The airline business is a fiercely competitive arena where, for the time being, and in part thanks to you, let’s not forget—your employer seems to be making ends meet. But, to use an expression from your daily routine, unexpected turbulences may occur….

To backtrack a little bit, I want to highlight some of your recent battles and some extremely valuable gains that might inspire other CUPE unions in Quebec and elsewhere in the country.

First of all, you succeeded in putting an end to the disproportionate disciplinary measures for the “no-show phone in”—that is, when you forget to call to confirm you will be on a flight, or are late by only a minute. Suspending someone for forgetting such a simple thing lacked common sense. You filed as many as 90 grievances about this issue and arrived at a reasonable agreement. Today, Transat has resumed calling you and is willing to give you a chance. Everyone hopes that this legal arsenal will never have to be used, but sometimes it’s the only way of making an employer listen to reason. It often takes a long time, nearly 18 months in this case, but when the case is solid and well built, we can change things for the better in the interest of our members.

In addition—and this matter is particularly close to my heart, you stood firm and won a very real gain for work-family balance. After nearly two years of continued efforts, you succeeded in creating a mini work schedule. This is real proof that you must persevere if you want to be victorious. Because of your union, since January you have been able to register for half blocks of work, which represent 32.5 hours per month. This gives some of your colleagues a respite and allows them more time to care for their children or family members. It’s a fine example of modern, open unionism where people’s needs are heard.

I have learned that insurance matters are currently causing you problems. It is completely unacceptable that you had to go all the way to arbitration simply to get a copy of your insurance policy. I’ve never seen anything like it! I hope that, as a result of the decision that comes out of it, you will have all the tools you need to check whether the contract provisions are being met and correctly applied.

On the other hand—and this has recently made waves—there is the whole issue of Transat’s leasing of airplanes with pilots, but without you, the flight attendants. This discrimination leads to labour surpluses and therefore layoffs. Transat makes money with these contracts, but you are the ones who pay the price. Although your union recently saved 200 jobs by taking steps in connection with hours and work sharing, 52 of your colleagues were still laid off in December because of this employer decision. And the saddest part of this story is that, prior to 2009; flight attendants were part of these leasing agreements. We must do everything possible to ensure that this practice is resumed and your jobs are protected. It is quite clear: the challenges of sub-contracting affect not only hospitals, schools, and cities, but also private companies like yours.

Just a word about your campaign to build awareness of the importance of a real and good retirement plan. This is a major issue right now and I strongly encourage you to continue your efforts to educate members. And congratulations on your initiative in creating an MSPP Fund with other unions that will provide you retirement benefits at the appropriate time. I understand that this is a first step and that you must continue to build and improve this plan. I have faith in you; I know that you will not drop the ball and that you will show the same tenacity as in so many other matters.”