Saturday 10 March 2012

Bravo Minister Raitt for averting Air Canada work stoppage

My hero: Minister Lisa Raitt
Here are my three cheers for Lisa Raitt and the majority Conservative government.  I just returned from a short vacation in South Florida, having taken an airplane for the first time in two and a half years. Just my luck, on the eve of my return flight, came news that a potential work disruption was about to occur within the ranks of Air Canada. It was supposed to begin on Monday, March 12, a few days after my departure but right at the time my other family members were set to leave.

This made me really angry.  Selfishly I thought about how unlucky we were, having not flown in a few years and now being held hostage by the airline. Air Canada had served formal notice it intended to lock its 3,000 pilots, coinciding with the March 12 strike date set by the machinists’ union, which includes 8,600 baggage handlers and mechanics. How opportunistic to do this during the peak March Break travel period!

I am not about to take sides here. What I can say is regardless of the spike in oil prices, Air Canada charged us an average of $25 extra per bag (times five each way). When it came time for food, a tasteless roast beef sandwich set me back $7 (credit cards only accepted). Luckily I brought my own earphones for that would have cost me a few bucks as well. Clearly, the airline is making many millions of dollars by sticking it to the passenger like this.
For the sake of my family members, I began to panic a bit. How would they get back in time for the start of school? Would there be any other flights available during this week and how much would it set me back financially?

I went on the internet and was delighted to see our federal government in action. It actually made me quite delighted as a Canadian to see that we had a majority government in office that was not going to sit idly by and let members of the public get slammed. Sure, not everyone takes advantage of air travel. But it is an essential service for many and important for our economy.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief with news that Minister Raitt had blocked any immediate disruptions, referring two separate contract disputes to the Canada Industrial Relations Board to determine how a work stoppage by the two unions would affect the health and safety of Canadians. Raitt said a work stoppage was “unacceptable” because it would threaten to damage the fragile economy and interrupt March Break holiday plans for families in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

It is unclear how long the industrial relations board will need to examine the contract disputes.  I hope it lasts a couple of weeks at least. The Minister has used this same manoeuvre before, blocking a walkout last fall of Air Canada’s flight attendants. The two sides eventually agreed to binding arbitration and the flight attendants received a contract they had voted down.

NDP labour critic Yvon Godin said the government is interfering in labour negotiations, siding with business and taking away the right of workers to strike.“It’s not the job of the government to get involved in negotiation,” he told reporters. “They’re there to facilitate negotiation. They’re there to help people to get to the table. Free bargaining, it’s out in this country. And this Stephen Harper government is taking it away from the workers.”

Sure Mr. Godin, you can take your fancy government expense plan and just rebook any of your flights on West Jet! Had a minority government been in office right now, the work stoppage would have proceed, benefitting nobody.

When I spoke to some of my Liberal friends, they seemed to side with the unions as well. One aide to an MP told me that competition is the answer. Maybe he is right. Yes, we have WestJet, which does not go to as many destinations. Porter Airlines goes to mostly Canadian stops and a few in the USA. What we really need is an open skies agreement. Let Delta, American Airlines and the others fly wherever they want in Canada.  If Air Canada did not have this virtual monopoly, perhaps they’d stop holding us hostage.

I took the shuttle at Trudeau to pick up my car at the Sheraton Airport Montreal and the pilots from my flight and some of the crew were seated beside me. They seemed kind of relieved that the Minister had intervened. "None of us really want a work stoppage," said one. "The Minister has a found a way to buy time."

The other pilot saved his angry words for Air Canada senior executives, who are making seven figure salaries.

Lisa Raitt acted last summer when Canada Post went on strike, forcing their unions back to work after a stoppage which despite our reliance on the internet still caused many problems. I wish to commend for being a woman of action!

As for Air Canada, well my return home flight gave me a chance to feel what it is like to be a contestant on The Amazing Race. My partners were the Hampstead father and son duo of Gregand Eric Weitzman, whom I met on board. We were scheduled to leave Fort Lauderdale at 2:55 p.m. to meet a connecting flight in Toronto at 8 p.m. When I arrived at 1 p.m. I was told the flight was delayed until 4 p.m. Oh well, I took out my laptop and began to type. By the time the plane took off it was closer to 5 p.m. and as we took the air I received a text from Air Canada which I could not access as we reached the clouds.

We landed at close to 7:30 p.m. and of course we had to go through Canadian customs and retrieve our luggage. This is when I met the Weitzmans. “Did you get a text from the airline?” Greg asked.

“Yes, but I could not open it,” I replied.

Greg then told me that his text explained how his itinerary had changed, that we missed the connecting flight to Montreal and he and Eric were now scheduled to depart the following afternoon at 3 p.m.

I now tried to access my text and it read that I was placed on a 9 a.m. flight Saturday.
“Oh well, they better put us up in a hotel,” I stated.

We got our bags and headed towards a gate agent. “Your 8 a.m. flight was delayed and you can still make it,” she said. “Re check your bags. You have 15 minutes.”
The Amazing Race had begun. 

The three of us ran as fast as we could, passed through security and made it to the gate only to be told that we missed the flight. Not to worry. Because so many people missed their connecting flight to Montreal – some 90 in all- Air Canada had added a new one at 9:30 p.m. It took off at 10 p.m., allowing me enough time to purchase a sandwich and water for the bargain basement price of $16.

Well, overall I must commend our national airline for the way they handled the situation. 

Now where we can I audition for the Amazing Race?


  1. There is a reason why the negotiations have failed, Is the Company knows the Government will intervene and therefore the had no interest in free and fair bargaining at all. Witness the collapse of AVEOS (all former Air Canada employees) it's funny the Minister won't intervene on this issue as well as the catapillar strike in Ontario. I am happy you made it home but sad in the role our government played in it.

  2. And it's because of exactly this, why the workers fighting for better conditions can't get it.

    Imagine working in a industry for 10 years, only to be told you need to accept 37000/year for 4 years before you can even imagine 40000+.

    You think your holiday is an essential service in south florida. You should visit northern Canada instead. Those communities are relying on air service provided by transport and medevac companies these guys and girls used to work for.

    With no other means of getting around air transport is the only way for food and medical needs. That's essential.

    Don't tell me those hard worker after years of service up north deserve 37000 for 4 years, to lug your bum around to the south.