Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Yesterday about 300 people gathered in downtown Winnipeg to protest the closing of the Winnipeg and Halifax flight attendant bases on the part of Air Canada management. As Molly has reported before the federal government has refused to allow Air Canada an exemption from the law to "consult" ie present a non=negotiable demand with their employees. But, as I have said before this is a setback that hardly affects the timetable of management, let alone their intentions. may it be time for more militant action on the part of Air Canada employees ? The story from the Canadian Press....
Air Canada attendants rally across the country to fight for jobs:
— Air Canada (TSX:AC.A) flight attendants took to the streets in several cities Monday to protest job cuts and warn of more delays in the skies.

"I say to (Air Canada CEO) Robert Milton, how dare you send letters to these employees telling them they're surplus to your requirements?" Paul Moist, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, told more than 300 cheering attendants and supporters outside an Air Canada call centre in downtown Winnipeg.

"There's only one thing that's in surplus at Air Canada and that's the ... arrogance of Air Canada management."

Manitoba Premier Gary Doer lent his support to the attendants, telling them the plan to cut jobs in Winnipeg makes no economic sense.

"We are the only airport in Canada that has a 24-hour capacity, and we're also building and building ... the air cargo capacity which in fact helps the revenue bottom line of Air Canada and other airlines," the NDP premier told the crowd.

There were similar scenes in other cities.

About 100 Air Canada flight attendants and supporters marched at the Calgary International Airport, while 150 people rallied in front of city hall in Halifax and others gathered at Vancouver International Airport.

In Montreal, some 100 flight attendants demonstrated outside the departure lounge of Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport.

"We survived Sept. 11, the integration of Canada's new airlines, the SARS crisis, bankruptcy protection in 2003 and 2004," said Suzanne St-Jean, head of the CUPE branch in Montreal.
"The union is of the opinion that these draconian measures could have been avoided."

The demonstrations are unlikely to change minds at the struggling airline. Faced with rising fuel prices, the air carrier announced plans in June to cut seven per cent of its capacity and lay off up to 2,000 of its 28,000 workers.

As part of the plan, 632 of the airline's 7,000 flight attendants are to be given pink slips.
"Given the pressures we're under from fuel and the economy, it was just a decision that was forced upon us," Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said from Toronto.

"We can understand that it's disappointing and upsetting for our employees. That's why we're keen to sit down with them and look at ways to mitigate this and see what options there are for people."

The two sides were to meet Thursday to look for ways to make the job cuts as painless as possible - measures which could include early retirement incentives. Last week, federal Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn rejected Air Canada's request for a waiver from a requirement to set up a joint union-company committee to examine ways to ease the impact.

The job cuts will hit hardest in Winnipeg and Halifax, where flight attendant bases will be closed. The bases are not physical buildings, but simply the designated starting point for an employee's work day.

The closures mean attendants in Winnipeg and Halifax will have to move to one of the remaining base cities - Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and Calgary - or try to commute to their jobs via free standby flights. Flying standby, they run the risk of not being able to get to work on time if flights are full.

Attendants also warned the base closures will result in fewer workers on hand to help out with rescheduled flights or staff shortages.

"We're here to cover the Winnipeg flying and there won't be anyone covering the Winnipeg flying. They'll all be coming in from Toronto," said flight attendant Sandy Menjivar at the Winnipeg protest.

"Any time there's a cancellation - for whatever reason, weather or anything - there won't be anyone here to cover that. It'll just be cancelled, so good luck getting to Toronto; good luck getting to Vancouver."

But Fitzpatrick noted that Air Canada flies to dozen of airports now with only six bases.

Deborah Purvey, president of the CUPE local in Vancouver, said flight attendants have lost wages and benefits since 2004 while Air Canada has become profitable.

"They're using the price of fuel as an excuse to lay off employees," Purvey said.

Heather Tilroe, a flight attendant with 10 years experience, said at the demonstration in Calgary that she believes the cuts are simply the start of an erosion of service.

"We're always going to need flight attendants. Otherwise, we'd have a vending machine at the back of the plane," Tilroe told the Calgary Sun.

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