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Air Canada Strike Causes Some Delays

Air Canada LogoAir Canada passengers were facing delays across the country on Tuesday after the airline’s customer service and sales workers held a strike. The action started at midnight and was the result of the carrier and union Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) failing to reach an agreement about pensions. Ken Lewenza, the president of CAW, which represents about 3,800 workers, says that the union had tentatively agreed with Air Canada on some contract issues. However, the 2 parties weren’t unable to come to terms on wages and pensions issues.

Prior to the walkout, Air Canada had been downplaying the potential impact of a strike since, basically, the date was set. It said that it will continue operating all its services, as more than 1,700 managers would be helping at call centres and airports. However, Local 2002 union vice president Corinne Aubin was skeptical and said that it couldn’t happen. They have 3,800 workers out there with an average of 20 years of experience, and they can’t be replaced with someone who has only had a 2-week training course. She added that the public will suffer from this with long lineups and delays, and she felt heartbroken for them. This isn’t what the workers wanted, she added.

The Pearson Airport in Toronto reported about 45 delays and cancellations, while flights in Montreal and the Atlantic Canada region had a few delays in the early morning. Passengers were expecting there to be long lines at gates as they prepared to board their flights. Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said that the slower boarding was due to managers learning their new roles. The carrier is treating the strike in the same way it would a really bad storm or other irregular situation. They have a rather robust contingency plan in place, with over 22,000 other staff who were due to show up for work, so they intended to operate a full schedule, he added.

Airline chief operating officer Duncan Dee says the sticking point of pension involves a defined contribution plan for future employees taken on after January next year. He told Metro Morning that private sector companies are shifting to defined contribution plans in general, and the only way to ensure the long-term viability of the carrier and the employment of staff is by making changes in line with the time. He apologised for the inconvenience caused to customers, and said that they are ready to hit the negotiation table again any time.

Under defined contribution plans, money is given to an independently managed investment plan, like a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), while employees assume some of the risk. In defined benefit plans, however, money is put into a pension fund, and the company is responsible for making retirees’ predefined payments. If Air Canada and CAW can’t come to an agreement about this issue, then more strikes could be called.

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