Air Canada downplays impact of possible strike
Federal labour minister says she's concerned about possible economic harm
Air Canada insists it has a plan to "minimize any inconvenience" caused by a potential job action next week after the union representing customer service and sales staff at Air Canada gave the airline a 72-hour strike notice.
In a statement to customers on its website Saturday, the airline said it will continue to operate its regular schedule and that "existing bookings will be honoured and future bookings welcomed" in the event of a strike next week.
"All Air Canada employees are professionals and we fully expect that they will continue to peform their job," airline spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick told CBC News on Saturday.
Both Fitzpatrick and Bob Chernecki of the Canadian Auto Workers union said their organizations are committed to achieving a negotiated settlement and that talks are continuing.
"We're working around the clock to try to find a solution. We don't want to lose the Air Canada customer," Chernecki said.
The union gave the airline strike notice on Friday, meaning Air Canada’s 3,800 customer service agents could walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday if the two sides cannot reach a deal.
Contract negotiators failed to find enough common ground to reach a deal after 10 weeks of talks.
Chernecki said the union is willing to continue negotiations throughout the weekend, but it's facing a push for "significant concessions."
Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said in a statement Saturday that she was "concerned about the potential impact of a work stoppage on Canadians and on Canada's economic recovery."
But the minister seemed disinclined to consider government intervention at this stage, saying "the best solution in any dispute is one that the parties reach themselves. I therefore urge and encourage the parties to reach a negotiated agreement as soon as possible."
Pension proposal key issue
A proposal to change the employees' pensions has been a key sticking point in the talks.
Under the airline's proposal, new hires would receive defined-contribution pension plans instead of the defined-benefit plans employees currently earn.
Defined-benefit plans are designed to provide retirees with a predictable income, but they expose the airline to additional costs if the pension fund's assets aren't able to pay for the benefits.
With defined-contribution plans, the airline's contribution is limited to a set, negotiated amount and payouts to retirees depend on the performance of the underlying investments.
The union also contends the airline wants to make massive changes to the plan for existing members that it says would gut their pensions.
"We're not going to sit and watch while they compensate CEOs in the millions of dollars and middle management and somehow make the argument that workers can't make progress," Chernecki said.
"Enough is enough, and we absolutely have no intention of going backwards."
With files from The Canadian Press