Arbitrator imposes deal that Air Canada’s flight attendants rejected

The union representing Air Canada’s 6,800 flight attendants expressed “profound disappointment” that the arbitrator has imposed the tentative deal that was rejected earlier.

“Flight attendants deserve better than this decision. They deserve better treatment from Air Canada, and they certainly deserve better from their federal government,” said Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, in a new release. “This government has been extremely irresponsible, and it’s their constant interference in collective bargaining that tipped the scales in favour of the company and against hardworking flight attendants.”

In October, the flight attendants voted 65 per cent to reject the latest deal, negotiated as federal Tories threatened back-to-work legislation. It was the second time the rank-and-file members had rejected a deal recommended by the union executives.

As the flight attendants set a second strike deadline, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt referred the dispute to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, citing questions around the country’s health and safety and whether a deal could be reached. That move blocked any strike action. The two sides then agreed to binding arbitration, taking the decision of federal arbitrator Elizabeth MacPherson, who is the chair of CIRB, as final.

“Awarding flight attendants an agreement they rejected a month ago does not in any way address serious workplace issues and flight attendants are rightfully disappointed and angry,” Moist said. “If Air Canada is truly interested in running a professional and efficient company they must invest in their workforce. This agreement will leave flight attendants exhausted, frustrated and underpaid.”

Air Canada officials could not immediately reached for comment.

The airline has been hit with significant labour unrest this year — with its pilots rejecting a tentative deal that included measures for a possible discount carrier. Talks with the pilots are expected to heat up with a strike deadline possible late in the year.

Its customer-service agents walked off the job in June, but reached a deal within three days as back-to-work legislation loomed.

However, the most contentious matter — what pensions should new hires get — was sent off to arbitration.

The arbitrator sided with the Canadian Auto Workers union, calling for a hybrid pension model — a blend of defined benefit, with a guaranteed payout, and defined contribution.

The airline had appealed the decision to the courts, but abandoned it, citing the need for stability.

“Pension reform and low-cost carrier participation are emotional and contentious issues that are causing labour turbulence at other legacy carriers grappling with the same issues,” said Air Canada president and CEO Calin Rovinescu on a conference call with analysts on Friday.

“So while the upcoming rounds of labour negotiations are expected to be challenging, we remain cautiously optimistic that negotiated settlements are achievable with the outstanding groups.”

Arbitrator imposes deal that Air Canada