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Whats going on?

Transport Canada is in the process of changing a crucial policy that affects your workload, as well as passenger safety: it is preparing to reduce the number of flight attendants that are legally required to work on Canadian aircraft.

Right now, the legal staffing ratio for flight attendants is one flight attendant for every 40 passengers on planes with over 50 seats. Due to intense lobbying from WestJet and the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), which represents all airlines, Transport Canada has agreed to make exemptions that would allow a staffing ratio of 1 in 50.

If this change is implemented, large aircraft at full passenger loads would lose up to two flight attendants each. This would mean lost wages and lost jobs for thousands of flight attendants in Canada.

How is this happening?

The 1 in 40 rule has been in place since 1971, and Transport Canada has confirmed the wisdom of this rule several times since. But WestJet has been lobbying hard for a 1 in 50 rule, like the Americans have. That rule was introduced after tremendous airline pressure for cost-cutting and without the safety analysis demanded by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. In its latest report on this issue, Transport Canada has caved. It now says airlines will be allowed to choose which staffing ratio it prefers. It says the 1 in 40 rule is still the best option, but the 1 in 50 rule is an acceptable level of safety. This is an ominous change from the previous departmental position, which demanded an equivalent level of safety. The Australian rule, by the way, is 1 in 36, which was re-asserted just last year partly thanks to Canadian research.

Why does WestJet want this change?

Pure cost-cutting, which is the same reason U.S. airlines demanded the 1 in 50 rule. WestJets fleet is made up largely of B-737s, which have 126 seats each. If the number of flight attendants required on board is reduced, these airplanes will only require three flight attendants instead of four.

What is Air Canadas stand on this issue?

In the past, Air Canada has opposed the 1 in 50 rule. But lately, its refusing to take a public position. Earlier this year, during its bargaining with Air Canada, CUPE asked the airline to promise flight attendants that it wouldnt move to a 1 in 50 ratio. The airline refused. Meanwhile, other airlines, such as Air Transat, have also been silent.

What can you do about it?

Talk to Members of Parliament as they fly back and forth from their ridings. You probably know who they are theyre usually on the same flight, in the same seat, every week. Tell them about the important role flight attendants play in the safety of their flights. Tell them about the safety record of Canadian airlines, which is almost second-to-none, and ask them why they would want that record to be compromised. Ask them why Transport Canada doesnt stick with what it admits is the best option for passenger safety a 1 in 40 flight attendant staffing ratio. Perhaps most importantly, show them the Globe and Mail article that way, theyll have something to think about during their entire flight.

Transport Canada has not started implementing this change yet. There is still time to have it reversed, and the people who have the power to do that are the people who represent us on Parliament Hill. Thats why your voice, as the voice of safety in the skies, is so important.

What is CUPE doing about this?

Weve been organizing resistance to a 1 in 50 rule for years. In 1995, Air Canada tried to get the ratio changed, but CUPE launched a lobbying campaign and won a significant victory: we kept the 1 in 40 ratio for all aircraft over 50 seats. Two years ago, WestJet made another grab for 1 in 50, and we stopped it. This year, we have participated in Transport Canadas latest risk analysis, and criticized the process. Well continue to keep you informed about whats happening, but we need your help. Please contact your component president and tell them you want to get involved.