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Feds block AC flight attendants from stiking

Oct. 12, 2011, Ottawa - The federal government is referring the labour dispute between Air Canada and its flight attendants to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, a move that will prevent the employees from going on strike Thursday, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said.


October 12, 2011
By CBC News

"What it's meant to do is before there's a work stoppage, just to make sure that the work stoppage is not going to affect the health and safety of the public and that's what the CIRB will take a look at after hearing from the parties involved," Raitt said on CBC-TV's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon.

Raitt said the CIRB would have to consider what communities might be cut off from service to urban centres and what effect that would have on Canadians' health and safety. Raitt said she didn't know how long it would take the CIRB to render a decision.

But how soon a possible strike could be ended by government back-to-work legislation would have depended on how fast Parliament could get recalled — it is currently on a break until Oct. 17 — and how long the NDP might filibuster.

Earlier on Tuesday, CUPE, the union representing the flight attendants, said it was willing to continue negotiations with the airline to stave off the strike.

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"We are ready to respond quickly to the employer," Jeff Taylor, president of CUPE's branch for Air Canada flight attendants, said in a statement.

"While no formal talks have taken place yet, we are ready to return to the table and find a way to keep our members and the public flying with a fair collective agreement."

The flight attendants, who are represented by CUPE, served a 72-hour strike notice on the airline on Sunday after 65 per cent of the votes cast were against the latest tentative collective agreement.

It marked the second time in recent months that the flight attendants have turned down a tentative deal with the airline.

They voted 87.8 per cent against ratifying the previous agreement in August.

While a strike by flight attendants would undoubtedly have a major impact on Air Canada's ability to operate, the airline has said it will maintain a partial schedule operated by its regional carriers in the event of a work stoppage.

The airline has not released details on what that partial schedule might include.

The airline said regular Air Canada Express service between the Toronto Island airport and Montreal's Trudeau airport, and flights operated by its Star Alliance partner airlines on international and U.S. transborder routes, would remain unaffected.

Passengers with tickets to fly over the next six days on a rolling window will be allowed to change their travel dates at no charge until Dec. 15, the airline said.

People weighed in via social media on the latest labour developments.

"You think you are WAY more important than you really are," Melanie Pope wrote of the flight attendants on Air Canada's Facebook page.

"Take the deal and quit whining. I will never book another flight with Air Canada."

In response, Christopher Dempster wrote: "While I do not agree the strike is a wise move, I don't think it has anything to do with anyone thinking they are 'important.'"

Many other consumers posted on the page seeking information about flights and schedules in the event of a labour disruption.

On CBC.ca, community member "MattAbroad" wrote that his wife and two daughters, who are both under age four, have switched from a daytime flight to Vancouver on Thursday to an 11 p.m. flight on Wednesday night.

"Sorry, fellow travellers, 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. is not really when my girls shine, but we didn't plan it this way," the post says.

"I don't like being made a pawn in disputes between labour and management."

WestJet said Tuesday it would add more domestic and cross-border flights, based on available crews and aircraft, in the event of a strike at its competitor.

"October is a slower part of the travel season," said Cam Kenyon, WestJet's executive vice-president of operations.