Air Canada pilots have overwhelmingly ratified an unusual 10-year contract deal that will bring labour peace, but only if the airline meets growth targets.
“We’re facilitating growth at the airline, wide-body growth. We’re securing work,” said Craig Blandford, president of the Air Canada Pilots Association, which represents about 3,000 pilots
“We’re sure making Air Canada is going to be better positioned for the future, internationally and domestically,” he said, adding there are certain job guarantees due to number of aircraft to be flown.
The new contract holds the number of planes to be transferred to Rouge, the leisure carrier, to 50 aircraft, though there is more variety in the types of planes permitted. As well, more regional flying will be allowed, to feed anticipated growth in longer-haul flights.
The pilots voted 84 per cent in favour of the deal, with 92 per cent participating in the ratification vote.
It’s been a dramatic turn of events at the country’s largest airline, which has been mired in labour unrest for years.
The pilots agreed to Air Canada’s request to hold secret talks to open up the contract early.
The contract, which wasn’t due to expire until 2016, was imposed by an arbitrator after acrimonious bargaining that resulted in pilots rejecting a tentative agreement, and flight cancellations due to a large number of pilot bookoffs.
The federal government intervened in contract talks on the eve of March Break in 2012 to block a lockout of pilots and a machinists’ strike, paving the way to a final offer selection where an arbitrator chooses one side or another.
Even though the arbitrator sided with the company, airline management was still keen to open up talks early.
Blandford said the union has agreed to give up its right to strike until 2024, if Air Canada meets certain growth targets. But there will be openings every three years to review certain issues.
But “if they don’t buy the airplanes that they promised, then all bets off,” said Blandford, saying the union could then take strike action if it wanted.
He declined to release the airline’s growth targets, which relate to the number of new aircraft to be acquired in the next decade, but said the company may do so next week when it delivers its third-quarter results.
The contract calls for a 2 per cent pay increase every year, pension improvements beginning in 2017, as well as a profit-sharing program that now mirrors one for Air Canada’s upper management.
“What we wanted to do is that if management gets a bonus, then we get a bonus. It’s the same metric now,” Blandford said.
When asked whether the pilots are giving up control by locking into such a long contract, Blandford said the agreement helps ensure Air Canada’s growth, and the airline needs the pilots on board.
“If they making oodles of money, then we’re going to get oodles of bonuses,” he said.
Leslie Dias, national representative for Unifor, which represents the airline’s reservation and check-in staff, says her union wouldn’t be interested in such a long contract.
“A lot can change in 10 years. You need to be in a position to deal with issues when they arise,” she said. “Ten years is way too long to be locked in and unable to react.”
Dias acknowledged the pilots’ contract has influence on the type of aircraft flown, fleet size and what aircraft are flown by regional carriers.
“It does potentially put in place some stability for the rest of us, in terms of knowing what the future plans are. That’s not a negative for the rest of us,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for the rest of us to do.”
Unifor’s contract expires next February, followed by the flights attendants next March. The baggage handlers and machinists’ contract expires in March 2016.