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Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac as many baggage handlers walked off the job at Pierre Trudeau airport in Montreal, March 23, 2012. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac as many baggage handlers walked off the job at Pierre Trudeau airport in Montreal, March 23, 2012. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Air Canada pilots urge union to open mind to industry's 'new realities' Add to ...

Former labour leaders from the Air Canada Pilots Association are telling union members to open their minds to new ideas from the airline’s management.

“Every once in a while, an opportunity presents itself that if not taken advantage of, never presents itself again. This is one of those times. We face a critical choice. We can continue to work for a legacy carrier with a huge unfunded pension liability, a rigid work force and no ability to challenge its competition. Or, we can choose to adapt, adopt new ideas and work to secure a contract that provides industry-leading compensation while at the same time addressing the new realities of our industry,” said a memo written by 27 former ACPA leaders.

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Air Canada has been seeking to start a low-cost carrier, to be based in Canada but with a minority stake of 25 per cent that would be held by a foreign carrier.

While the group of pilots didn’t specifically mention the discount leisure airline proposal, the memo cautions that ACPA’s current labour negotiators need to take heed. “Nobody likes change, but change is coming. We can either attempt to influence that change or we can continue down the road of the current leadership, which will result in a far more disappointing outcome than can be achieved by recognizing the realities of our situation and modifying our behaviour accordingly,” said the memo signed by former ACPA chairman Bruce White and 26 others.

Last year, an online petition forced several ACPA officials to resign, including Captain White. In May, 2011, ACPA members rejected a tentative pact recommended by their negotiators.

Earlier this month, federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt referred two disputes to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, a manoeuvre that blocked 8,600 ground crew from going on strike on March 12 as planned, as well as thwarting management’s notice to lock out 3,000 pilots on the same day. As a precautionary measure, the Senate passed back-to-work legislation on March 15, but members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers staged a 14-hour wildcat strike last week.

The group of 27 pilots said the contract impasse will head toward arbitration, and urged colleagues to sign a petition to show their support for the former union leaders’ suggestions for returning to the bargaining table.

“Legislation has now passed which will see us face ‘final offer selection’ arbitration as a remedy to our current contract dispute with Air Canada. Barring a dramatic shift in strategy on the part of ACPA, this legislation signals the end of ‘negotiations.’ For those of you unfamiliar with final offer selection, it differs from traditional arbitration in that the arbitrator, rather than taking the submissions of the two parties and finding a middle ground, instead will select an unmodified version of either the company’s final offer or the union’s final offer,” said the pilots’ memo.

The group of former ACPA leaders say they “believe that an opportunity exists to sit down and make some minor changes to last year’s tentative agreement and to address some of the concerns expressed by the pilots at the time.”

In a second memo, the pilots warned that “absent a drastic shift in strategy, disaster is inevitable” for ACPA members.

“Our recommendation involves abandoning the current rhetoric and acrimony and returning to the table in a productive manner, with the goal of trying to address some of the concerns and issues that our membership had with last year’s tentative agreement,” said the second memo by the pilots, who disagree with ACPA’s focus on a legal challenge to federal back-to-work legislation.

“We may not like the government's interference, and in fact we may vehemently disagree with it, but it is nevertheless a stark reality of the bargaining landscape that we face,” said the group of 27 pilots.

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