Early Agreement at Air Canada Makes Progress in Difficult Times, CAW President says

January 15, 2009, 2:27 PM EST

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CAW President Ken Lewenza calls the early tentative agreement between the Canadian Auto Workers union and Air Canada a strategic and necessary move by the union that yielded positive results for its members. "We defeated the company's demands for yet more concessions, and we made modest progress for our members despite the enormous uncertainty facing our members and the company," Lewenza said.

Years of economic turbulence in the airline industry, topped by the side-effects of the current global financial meltdown, made the bargaining extremely challenging, Lewenza said. However, it was clear that economic conditions facing the airline industry are going to get worse, not better, in the next few months, he added, and that made it sensible for the union to try to reach an early settlement. The tentative agreement was reached four months before the expiry of the existing contract.

"Our union was able to resist major concession demands from the company," Lewenza said, which included a proposed two-tier wage system, outsourcing of bargaining unit work, and the company's demand to abandon the defined benefit pension plan. 

The new tentative agreement includes improvements to workplace scheduling systems and established an agreement that smoothes the transition for members affected by the creation of Aeroplan as a stand-alone company. The tentative settlement also includes a one-time $1,000 payment for full time employees ($500 for part time employees), and modest base wage increases of 1.5 per cent and 1.75 per cent in the second and third years.

"Getting in early with these negotiations helped us reach the best deal possible for our members," said Leslie Dias, President of CAW Local 2002. "Any delay in negotiations would have left us in a much more vulnerable position as the economy continues to deteriorate, and airline travel continues to decline. With so much at stake in these negotiations we couldn't afford to take that risk."

"Defending our past gains, and making continuing progress, is the hallmark of trade unionism," Dias said. "With all the uncertainty facing the airline industry, and this company in particular, this is a contract we can be proud of."

Details of the contract will be made available to the public after the members ratify the agreement. CAW members will vote on the contract at ratification meetings set to be held across the country over the next two weeks.

This agreement covers over 5,000 Air Canada and Aeroplan customer service and sales employees represented by CAW Local 2002. The current collective agreement expires in May 2009. 

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