Air Canada, pilots turn to arbitrator

A last-ditch attempt between Air Canada and its pilots to work out a new contract on their own came to a crashing halt Saturday as talks fell through and arbitration appeared the last resort.

Contract talks break down after 10 days

Air Canada and the union representing its pilots will turn to a federal arbitrator to solve their contract dispute. Reuters

A last-ditch attempt between Air Canada and its pilots to work out a new contract on their own came to a crashing halt Saturday and it appears resolving the matter will fall to a federal mediator.

The union representing the pilots issued a news release Saturday indicating that 10 days of negotiations failed to produce a deal and the dispute was to go to arbitration.

"To say we are disappointed would be a vast understatement," Captain Jean-Marc Belanger, chair of the master executive council of the Air Canada Pilots Association, said in the news release. "We did everything possible to reach an agreement, paring down our proposals, addressing the airline's issues and showing flexibility at the bargaining table."

The union wouldn't elaborate on which issues are keeping the two sides apart, citing a blackout that was imposed on the talks. Air Canada was not immediately available for comment, nor was federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt.

The two sides are expected to meet with federal arbitrator Doug Stanley, likely within days, who would lay out the rules for the arbitration process. The two sides would both submit proposals to Stanley, who is to pick one of them as the basis of a new contract.

The threat of a lockout of the pilots prompted the federal government to intervene in the dispute earlier this year with back-to-work legislation. The legislation allowed an arbitrator to impose a settlement if the two sides couldn't reach an agreement.

A similar arrangement was imposed on the union that represents its 8,600 mechanics, baggage handlers and cargo agents. The ground crews were poised to go on strike at the same time the airline was threatening to lock out the pilots. Air Canada also agreed to hold 10 days of negotiations to try to avoid arbitration, but the status of those talks was not immediately known.

Air Canada has been besieged with troubles from virtually all its major unions. The federal government had to also intervene last year in disputes with the airline's customer service staff and its flight attendants.

The Air Canada Pilots Association is the largest  professional pilot group in Canada, representing the 3,000 pilots who operate Air Canada's mainline fleet.