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Air Canada union says cabin crews should be self-isolating, airline disagrees

The union that represents a large number of Air Canada's cabin crew says its members should be isolating themselves any time they return to Canada for two weeks just as government authorities suggest everyone else does. But the airline says its employees are exempt from that policy.

Union says precautions such as gloves and masks aren't always available for cabin crew

Air Canada says its flight and cabin crew are exempt from suggestions to self isolate for two weeks because of the risk of coronavirus after leaving the country. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

The union that represents a large number of Air Canada's cabin crew says its members should be isolating themselves any time they return to Canada for two weeks just as government authorities suggest everyone else does, but the airline says its employees are exempt from that policy.

Wesley Lesosky, president of the Air Canada component of Canadian Union of Public Employees, told CBC News that the union became aware over the weekend that the airline thinks its staff are "exempt" from the advice of numerous government agencies that anyone arriving to Canada from abroad right now self-isolate themselves in case they have contracted the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 illness.

CBC News has obtained what appears to be a memo from the airline to its staff stating that after having "discussions with government authorities, we can confirm that these conditions do not apply to you as operating, deadheading or commuting cabin crew." Deadheading refers to when Air Canada staff ride on a plane while not working it, in order to get to a new destination where they are required to work a flight.

The airline has not responded to a CBC News request about the veracity of the memo's contents. But the union says the policy is "inexplicably dangerous, short-sighted, and ignorant to the health of thousands of flight attendants who continue to work through these extremely trying times."

"You're exempted given you're well trained and prepared to protect yourselves, spend less times in the countries being visited and have access to and use protective measures on board, including hand sanitizers, masks and gloves when and as appropriate," the airline's memo to staff reads.

The union takes issue with that portion, suggesting that gloves and masks "are not always available for our Air Canada mainline or Air Canada Rouge crews when reporting for duty. This is outrageous and totally unacceptable."

"We understand the risks we undertake in continuing to do our jobs," Lesosky said, "but we are not guinea pigs. We will continue to play our pivotal role in bringing Canadians home as this pandemic escalates, but we will not accept the company or the government taking us or our safety for granted any longer."

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