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Air Canada pilots' contract up in air over discount carrier Add to ...

Air Canada has surprised union leaders by refusing to reopen labour talks with its pilots, triggering a ratification vote on a tentative deal that calls for a new discount leisure airline.

The Air Canada Pilots Association will announce Monday that it will forge ahead with the vote because management declined to discuss revisions sought by union negotiators.

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ACPA's master executive council is unanimous "in the belief that the tentative agreement must be sent to the pilots for a vote so that the democratic process is upheld. Therefore, the ratification vote for the tentative agreement will commence May 9," the union said in an internal memo to its members.

Results from cross-country balloting are expected within two weeks.

With the proposed low-cost carrier division to be launched next winter, Air Canada is targeting vacation destinations in Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean. While the plan has drawn rave reviews from many consumer and travel groups, ACPA members are concerned about the creation of a lower-wage scale for pilots flying for the new unit.

Other contentious issues include a proposal to have new hires join defined-contribution pension plans, which don't provide a guaranteed level of payment upon retirement. And those in the existing defined-benefit pension plans face having to work an extra five years to qualify for early retirement.

Last month, ACPA leaders released details of the tentative pact, but an online petition soon sprang up to protest the deal and sought to oust Captain Bruce White, chairman of the master executive council.

In a referendum to recall him and force his resignation, nearly 80 per cent of the 2,421 ballots cast supported his removal as chairman, according to results released internally, shortly after a 10-day vote over Mr. White's fate ended Sunday.

First officer Brad Kenyon, the interim acting union chairman, said in a memo that union leaders have done their best to react quickly to "emerging issues."

Management is hoping that union members will take a closer look at the benefits of starting a discount carrier, which would generate new jobs, offer extra flying to pilots and overtime payments.

With the tentative deal in limbo, ACPA leaders have opted to file a grievance against Air Canada's return on Sunday to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. Air Canada has the right under the tentative pact to hire Sky Regional Airlines Inc. to operate the Toronto-Montreal route with non-union pilots.

The union's grievance is slated to go to an arbitrator, if required.

Mr. Kenyon said union officials will prepare newsletters to address "misunderstood aspects" of issues in collective bargaining.

The ratification vote doesn't come with any recommendation from the master executive council, which was evenly divided on whether to approve an endorsement, he said.

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