Canada provides a range of technical services to Canada’s airline industry. The IBEW, the union comprising its electronic technologists, claims that the lack of a collective bargaining agreement for almost three years may have a deterimental affect on airline safety.
“”The fact that it’s taken this long to get to a collective agreement has put a lot and is still putting a lot of stress and strain on the workers,”” said Paul Morse, business manager for the IBEW Local 2228. “”We’ve got members off on stress leave, disability, extended sick leave. The tension in the workforce . . . you could cut it, it’s so thick.””
The IBEW is left with little recourse, said Morse. Attempts at work to rule campaigns have met with stiff opposition. “”Some of our guys decided not to show up to work one day, which resulted us being in front of the labour board and injunctions,”” he said. “”We’re very careful about working to rule because the employer has made it clear to us a number of times that if we do work to rule, there’ll be going off to the labour board again.””
The union cannot strike legally, since it contravenes policy set forth by the Canada Industrial Relations Board. Instead, the IBEW is staging a series of “”information pickets”” across the country to raise awareness. Those manning the picket line are doing so on their own time — either using vacation days or before their regular shift starts.
“”Basically what it boils down to right now is we’ve been ineffective in actually motivating the employer to come to the table with any decent offers. As of now, there’s no offer,”” said Morse.
NAV Canada characterized Wednesday’s demonstrations as a bargaining tactic. “”(It) really has nothing to do with safety,”” said spokesman Louis Garneau. “”Our safety record is one of the best in the world. There’s no need to worry on the part of the flying public.””
To further publicise its cause, the IBEW has taken out advertising in half a dozen Canadian newspapers, including the National Post and the Globe and Mail. The ads claim that air navigation sites have almost been cut in half, system maintenance frequency has been reduced and staff have been forcefully relocated.
“”They’re confusing the issue. The point is, with technologists they were relocated as part of our maintenance program which was to conduct more remote monitoring,”” said Garneau, adding, “”our new systems require less maintenance and our more reliable.””
The ads also urged the public to contact the Minister of Transport David Collenette “”if you agree public safety should come first.””
Ministry spokesman Brian McGregor called the ads “”misleading”” since the ministry cannot play a role in the labour dispute. “”(Nav Canada) isn’t a fully private corporation but a not-for-profit corporation, so they’re not under our purview in the labour management sense,”” he said. But the ministry does oversee Nav Canada’s safety record. “”So in terms of their day-to-day operations, we monitor them very carefully to make sure they’re in compliance with our regulations and standards.””
There have been salary increase offers made by NAV Canada to the IBEW (Garneau said that a 27 per cent pay increase was turned down by the union on Sept. 13, 2001), but those have been pulled due to the airline industry downturn. The most recent crisis to hit the industry is being played out by Air Canada. The company filed for bankruptcy protection on April 1 and Tuesday reached an agreement with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to lay off another 1,400 employees.
NAV Canada and the IBEW are split on what that may mean for the maintenance business. “”There’s no doubt that their charging fees are based on the number of planes that are throughput through the airspace . . . but the company does have the ability to recover their costs,”” said Morse.
Garneau said that NAV Canada has been able to make up some ground by licensing some of its software, but that the company is forecasting $176 million in lost revenue for its fiscal year ending in August.
The likely end point for the labour dispute will be binding arbitration, said Morse. “”I don’t think there’s any way we’re going to be able to negotiate. In fact, I’m convinced that we’re not going to be able to negotiate, because the company’s last offer was zero.””
Garneau agreed that binding arbitration is probably an eventuality, but said that previous offers from the company had been refused. NAV Canada is currently in binding arbitration with two other unions.