Union leaders are warning that Air Canada is on a course to divert aircraft maintenance work to lower-cost plants in the United States and El Salvador.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers says hundreds of Canadian jobs are at risk of being transferred to foreign aircraft repair companies over a 10-year period, if Air Canada's heavy maintenance contract is allowed to expire in mid-2013.
The union cautions that jobs in Canada at Aveos Fleet Performance Inc., formerly named Air Canada Technical Services, are at risk of being shifted to lower-wage jurisdictions at competing repair shops in places such as Nashville, Plattsburgh, N.Y., and Rome, N.Y.
Lenders have majority ownership of Montreal-based Aveos while Air Canada's stake is estimated by the union to be 17 per cent.
Marcel St-Jean, president of IAMAW Local 1751 in Montreal, said he's especially concerned about Aveos' expansion plans for its Aeroman division in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.
"We are very scared that jobs will go to El Salvador," Mr. St-Jean said. "After mid-2013, there isn't any obligation on Air Canada's part to do heavy maintenance on the planes in Canada."
In 2009, Canadian employees at Aveos earned between $1,700 and $5,500 a month, depending on their skills and experience, compared with $350 to $1,200 a month at Aeroman.
Aveos spokesman Michael Kuhn said management has repeatedly told union leaders that their fears are unfounded. "We don't have plans to move Air Canada work to the locations indicated," he said.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick added in a statement that "contrary to false rumours that have been circulated, Air Canada has no plans to send any airframe maintenance work to Aeroman."
Despite such assurances, the lack of job security remains the big topic among IAMAW members, said Lorne Hammerberg, the Winnipeg-based president of Local 714 of the union.
Mr. Hammerberg said most of the 540 unionized mechanic and technician jobs in Winnipeg could be eventually wiped out because Aeroman does work on narrow-body Airbus and Embraer jets - the same type of aircraft handled in the Manitoba capital.
Union officials also warn that roughly half of the 2,000 workers at Aveos's Montreal plant could see their jobs vanish if Air Canada doesn't extend its heavy maintenance contract. Many of the 580 Vancouver and 100 Mississauga, Ont., positions are also at risk, the officials says.
Dave Ritchie, IAMAW general vice-president, said on Tuesday that the union is counting on Ottawa to review the Air Canada Public Participation Act. Under the act, the Montreal, Winnipeg and Mississauga bases must remain open and active, he said.
Air Canada said in a statement that it "complies with and will remain compliant with the Air Canada Public Participation Act."
The union is sounding the alarm as the work force at Aveos undergoes a transition to being represented by an Aveos bargaining unit that will be separate from Air Canada. "This process will allow eligible employees to bid, on the basis of seniority, for positions at Air Canada and Aveos. The transition process also provides those employees with seven different options when choosing which employer they prefer and deals with pension matters for employees transitioning to Aveos," Air Canada said.
While Air Canada accounts for most of the work at Aveos in Canada, the maintenance, repair and overhaul company also has other contracts, including one for Yellowknife-based Canadian North's Boeing 737s. Aveos subcontracts certain heavy maintenance, called "C checks," to Costa Rica, said Canadian North president Tracy Medve.