Canadian Airline Unions Ratify Cuts

By Katy LeRougetel, The Militant, Vol.61 no.3, 20 January 1997

MONTREAL—On Dec. 20, 1996, members of Canadian Airlines' three major unions completed their cross-country voting on concessions demanded by the company. Members of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) approved the package by 81 percent, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) voted 88 percent in favor, and the flight attendants, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, ratified the wage cuts proposal by 89 percent.

Under the agreement, workers earning less than $25,000 a year will be exempted from the cuts. A graduated percentage will be slashed from wages, reaching a 5 percent maximum cut for CAW members. The wages will stay frozen until the year 2000.

The 3,900 CAW members held their vote under the cloud of the federal government's decision to force a vote over the heads of the union officials. While decrying the government's threat, CAW president Basil Hargrove refused to challenge the government move, saying to do so would open the way for more sweeping government legislation harmful to all unions.

Larry Johnston, a cleaner at Canadian Airlines and member of IAM Lodge 764, voted against the concessions. He told the Militant, The majority voted yes because there was no alternative. People are dissatisfied with the offer despite the high vote.

The CAW officialdom's stance throughout negotiations was in the framework on how to save the airline industry. Speaking to a December 6-8 meeting of the national CAW Canada Council, Hargrove stated that he was trying to find a solution that will end the predatory pricing in the airline industry. He added that union negotiators won the support of the vast majority of CAW members for our union's refusal to cut wages one more time with no guarantees.

Part of the package Hargrove recommended to the membership includes guaranteed establishment of a committee made up of union, business, and government forces to study the airlines industry. The CAW has been campaigning for reinstating regulations that were phased out in the 1980s.

He pointed to the valuable assistance of British Columbia premier Glen Clark, of the New Democratic Party, in giving Canadian Airlines $11 million. Robert Rae, a former NDP premiere in Ontario, also served as a legal representative for the IAM in negotiating the concessions deal.

Meanwhile, restructuring of regional airlines has provoked other conflicts in the industry recently. Two hundred Air BC flight attendants struck for three weeks in December. As she walked the picket line, Lesley Wasylyk said, What's at issue is deteriorating working conditions for us.... I stood 100 percent with the Canadian Airline workers against the cuts. That's never the answer.

Nine hundred pilots are threatening to strike against four of Air Canada's regional carriers on January 10. Wages are a key issue in that dispute.

Air Canada's 3,500 ticket agents, members of the CAW, ratified a new contract in December. It calls for an 8 percent wage hike over the next two and a half years, the first wage increase for these workers since 1991.