Government may step in on Air Canada strike

Citing concerns about the broader impact on the economy and the public, the Canadian government said it was ready to introduce legislation ending the two-day old strike by Canadian Auto Workers’ 3800 Air Canada sales and service agents. But previous attempts to end a 2009 Canadian Railway strike with legislation was forestalled by a settlement between the two parties.

The move comes as Air Canada seems to be weathering its first strike in 13 years when pilots walked off the job in 1998. Passengers were greeted by picketers across the system but the airline’s preparations included readying managers and non-union workers to fill in for the strikers and urging passengers to check in on line and has, so far, led to few disruptions although there were very short, sporadic delays, according to the airline. Other preparations including implementing procedures for weather events such as canceling and consolidating flights.

In its pledge to continue to operate its normal schedule, Chief Operating Officer Duncan Dee put the number of managers now assisting passengers at 1,700. The show down with the CAW is the first of four unions covering 3,000 pilots, 6,800 flight attendants and 10,000 baggage and maintenance technicians whose contract also expire in 2011. Its recent tentative deal with the carrier’s pilots was rejected by rank and file last month.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said the legislation would be presented in Parliament at the earliest on Thursday but it could take longer, after the 48-hour waiting period had expired, according to the Financial Post. Union leaders called the proposed action interference with collective bargaining rights and would set a bad precedent.

Critics, citing the amount of competition in the market, said the government move was premature. Ottawa has urged the airline and union to put their pension dispute to an arbiter in order to solve the differences between management and union. Management wants new hires to come in under a defined contribution plan because it can no longer afford the more expensive, more traditional pension plans. The union wants a single plan, saying two different plans breaks solidarity within the union.

In the meantime, WestJet was not adding capacity in response to the strike citing the probability the strike would not be long and its current capacity would meet the need. It did say it had the ability to add extra flights if necessary. Also Porter Airlines reported an uptick in bookings.

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