Air Canada flight attendants have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate, clearing the way for a walkout on Sept. 21.
Nearly 98 per cent of ballots cast by members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees supported a strike, with a voter turnout of about 78 per cent.
"A strike vote does not mean we will necessarily go on strike, but it means we will strike if we need to. What we want and still hope for is a negotiated deal with the company," Jeff Taylor, president of CUPE's Air Canada component, said in a statement Tuesday. "No one wants a strike, but if we can't reach a tentative agreement which addresses our members' concerns, and soon, it could be our only choice."
Air Canada has been facing a series of challenging labour negotiations this year. The Canadian Auto Workers, representing sales and service agents, staged a three-day strike in June.
A walkout by flight attendants would be disruptive and lead to cancellations, in contrast to the minimal effects on plane schedules in June. Analysts expect Ottawa to step in and ensure that any work stoppage by flight attendants will be a short one.
The 10-day voting process wrapped up Tuesday, with 5,175 ballots backing a walkout while there were 116 opposed.
CUPE is upset about the Montreal-based carrier's training program for replacement workers in the event of a strike. The union has filed a policy grievance against Air Canada for its plans to deploy non-union staff and also launched a complaint to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, alleging unfair labour practices in management's strike contingency strategy.
Air Canada said it is prepared to "implement a partial schedule including code-share flights operated by its partner airlines," targeting certain routes. The carrier noted that the union must serve 72-hour strike notice before proceeding with any strike.
Talks are being held this week between union negotiators and management, aided by a federal mediator. The 6,800-member union will be in a strike position at 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 21.
Sticking points include management's proposal to start a discount leisure airline to be staffed by flight attendants on a lower wage scale, plans to place new hires on defined contribution pensions and working conditions related to rest time between assignments.
Last month, flight attendants rejected a tentative agreement that had been recommended by union negotiators.