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Air Canada union protests replacement worker training

The union representing Air Canada flight attendants is fuming about the carrier's training program for replacement workers in the event of a strike.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees has filed a policy grievance against the country's largest airline, and also launched a complaint to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, alleging unfair labour practices in management's strike contingency planning.

"The employer is conducting replacement worker training in September," according to an internal memo from CUPE, which represents 6,800 Air Canada flight attendants. "These workers are not flight attendants - we are! Real flight attendant annual recurrent training has been postponed until October. This is unacceptable. We have not agreed to any changes, and your union is fighting back."

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A 10-day strike vote wraps up Tuesday, and industry observers are expecting a strong mandate for a walkout that could start at 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 21.

Last month, CUPE members rejected a tentative agreement that would have cleared the way for Air Canada to create a lower wage scale for flight attendants at its proposed discount leisure airline.

This past spring, Air Canada trained hundreds of its non-union staff for duties as sales and service agents. The Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents 3,800 employees, staged a three-day strike in mid-June, though the carrier maintained its flight schedule as non-union staff filled in for the agents.

In late June, agents ratified a four-year deal - the CAW is the only union so far to have signed a new collective agreement at Air Canada.

"Like all airlines, Air Canada does prepare for all eventualities. and as part of being in the airline industry, you do make preparations," an airline spokesman said.

CUPE officials say they have various options this fall. "This means that rotating strikes, overtime bans by the union, work-to-rule campaigns, slowdown campaigns, and many other more imaginative job actions, are considered strikes," said a newsletter signed by seven CUPE leaders. "We won't get anywhere unless we're all in it together. We encourage you to vote, and vote yes to the strike!"

In May, members of the Air Canada Pilots Association rejected a tentative labour pact. A new negotiating committee briefed pilots last week, in anticipation of returning to the bargaining table this fall.

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Dispatchers recently turned down their tentative contract, too, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers still has to resolve various seniority-related issues before starting negotiations with Air Canada management.

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About the Author

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

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