Air Canada's labour dispute with its 2,900 pilots will be heading to conciliation.
Captain Paul Strachan, president of the Air Canada Pilots Association, said the airline has filed a "notice of dispute" with Ottawa, a move that will trigger the appointment of a conciliator.
"We are disappointed that Air Canada has chosen to escalate the situation before we returned to the bargaining table," Captain Strachan said in a statement Thursday.
In May, ACPA members turned down a tentative pact recommended by their negotiators.
"Since the last tentative agreement was rejected by our members, we have been working diligently to prepare proposals that we hope will form the basis of a new negotiated settlement," Capt. Strachan said. "Just last week, we proposed a date for returning to the bargaining table. Instead, Air Canada has unilaterally decided to involve the federal government in our negotiations."
In an interview, Capt. Strachan criticized management for "putting us back on square one" by calling in a conciliator.
"It's meant to intimidate us, to put us back on our heels," he said. "It makes me wonder whether Air Canada is even interested in a bargained agreement."
ACPA has been surveying its membership to gauge pilots' top concerns, after internal dissent in the spring. Petitions launched by a group of angry pilots led to the ouster of the previous ACPA chairman and three other union officials.
"We need to avoid another failed ratification," Capt. Strachan said. "Air Canada ought to appreciate that we're trying to do our homework."
Captain Gary Tarves, chairman of ACPA's master executive council, added that "passengers should continue to see Air Canada pilots maintain their professionalism under difficult circumstances" arising from the carrier's "unfortunate" labour tactics.
In a memo to pilots, Capt. Tarves said management is "applying for the appointment of a conciliation officer," even though the union is proposing that the two sides return to contract talks in November. The carrier's application has been filed with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which is part of the Labour Department.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said it is the airline's goal to reach negotiated deals, but he noted that the first tentative pact in May with ACPA wasn't ratified. "We have expressed our availability and willingness to recommence talks with ACPA since the first agreement failed to ratify six months ago. ACPA has yet to give us a firm date to recommence talks," Mr. Fitzpatrick said in an e-mail. "In view of the time elapsed since then, the company is of the view that the appointment of a conciliator is the responsible thing to do in order to avoid unnecessary concern for our customers."
The conciliator is expected to be named within two weeks. Then, after a 60-day period ends with the conciliator issuing a report, ACPA members could be in a position to strike 21 days later.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 6,800 Air Canada flight attendants, will be going to arbitration to settle its differences with management over wages, working conditions and a proposal to start a low-cost carrier. A decision in the CUPE contract impasse is scheduled for Nov. 7.
Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt intervened in the fight between Air Canada and its flight attendants, referring the dispute to the Canada Industrial Relations Board to thwart a planned strike by CUPE earlier this month.
Flight attendants rejected two tentative agreements recommended by their bargaining team.