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Mediator resigns from talks between Air Canada, pilots

Mediator resigns from talks between Air Canada, pilots


A co-mediator has tendered her resignation from contract talks between Air Canada and the union representing pilots.

Retired judge Louise Otis scolded the Air Canada Pilots Association for disrupting mediation. On Feb. 13, federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt named two co-mediators in the pilots' talks – Ms. Otis and Jacques Lessard, acting director-general of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

ACPA expressed concerns that Ms. Otis will be unavailable for mediation in March, but she said Monday that she has professional commitments in Europe, not vacation time.

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"The representatives of the union bargaining committee expressed their own time constraints during the school break in March," Ms. Otis wrote in her resignation letter, criticizing ACPA for ignoring confidentiality rules.

One industry observer said ACPA has effectively "forced out one of the mediators based on doublespeak," complaining that the union publicly accepted Ms. Otis's appointment at first but then disparaged her for being absent in March.

The pilots' previous contract expired on March 31, 2011.

"At the first session with ACPA, in the presence of my co-mediator Jacques Lessard, I mentioned my professional commitments – not vacations – in March," Ms. Otis wrote. "It is clear that ACPA is very anxious to proceed immediately and I do not want to be responsible for delaying the process. In the interest of avoiding delays and advancing the resolution of the dispute, I believe it is necessary to tender my resignation."

She urged union leaders to tread carefully during mediated talks.

"Failure to observe confidentiality will not help the resolution of the dispute and will make it impossible for a mediator to function effectively as a neutral," Ms. Otis said.

ACPA spokesman Paul Howard said it was Air Canada that broke the confidentiality of the union's initial meeting with mediator. He pointed to a letter to pilots dated Feb. 20 from Captain Rick Allen, the airline's senior director of flight operations.

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"If the company hadn't mischaracterized that meeting, there wouldn't be an issue in the first place," Mr. Howard said Monday night. "We had to set the record straight for own members."

Capt. Allen voiced concerns in his letter about the impasse between management and the union during mediation.

Ms. Otis helped produce a tentative agreement between Air Canada and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, but IAM members subsequently rejected that deal.

In a statement, Air Canada expressed disappointment about Ms. Otis's resignation, calling her "a highly regarded jurist who most recently played an instrumental role in the mediation of a tentative agreement with the IAM."

While the pilots' union is warning its members that Air Canada plans to water down defined benefit pensions and launch a low-cost carrier, the airline emphasizes that changes are crucial to ensure the company's long-term viability.

"We will continue to work co-operatively with the remaining co-mediator, Mr. Jacques Lessard, with a view to successfully concluding a tentative agreement with our pilots' union," Air Canada said.

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Ms. Otis is a retired judge of the Quebec Court of Appeal.

A statement released by the federal Labour Department said Ms. Raitt regretfully accepted Ms. Otis's resignation.

"We urge the parties involved to achieve a negotiated agreement. This government believes in the principle of free collective bargaining," Ms. Raitt said. "The obligation to reach a new collective agreement rests with Air Canada and the Air Canada Pilots Association."

She added that the government is mindful of the harm posed by a labour disruption to travellers and the economy.

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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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