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Transat workers support strike mandate

Union members fighting for wage boost amid cost-of-living crisis


Unionized Air Transat flight attendants have approved a strike mandate if they cannot agree on a new contract that includes improvements in pay and work conditions.

In a Monday news release, the Canadian Union of Public Employees representing 2,100 Air Transat flight attendants said workers voted 99.8 per cent in favour of the mandate during a general meeting.

With many unions renegotiating their collective agreements for the first time since the pandemic, labour experts say that while the overwhelming support for the strike may be unusual, it is not surprising, as workers look to make gains amid a time of high inflation.

“We’re always willing to help the employer. But now is enough. Now is the time for us to get what is owed to us,” Dominic Levasseur, president of the Air Transat component of CUPE, said in an interview.

Air Transat employees are demanding higher wages that better reflect rising costs of living since the previous collective agreement

was signed in 2015, Levasseur said. Members are also fighting to solve issues around unpaid work as well as employee fatigue, he added.

The current starting salary for an Air Transat flight attendant is $26,577 per year, which is below the hourly federal minimum wage of $16.65, up from $15.55 as of April 1. As a result, many have had to supplement their income and cover their costs by finding a second or third job, Levasseur said.

He believes the strike mandate will help speed up discussions at the bargaining table and hopes that a deal will be reached before Christmas. Until then, he said, they will “have some pressure tactics in (their) back pocket.”

Under the Canada Labour Code, flight attendants would be allowed to legally strike as of Jan. 3, 2024. In the event of a strike, it is expected that all flights will be cancelled, according to the release.

“We are confident to find an agreement,” said Andréan Gagné, senior director of communications and public affairs at Air Transat.

Gagné added that the tone at the bargaining table remains “cordial and respectful” and that the airline is working hard to ensure customers’ travel plans are not affected by the current negotiations.

The collective agreement for the Air Transat flight attendants based at airports in Montreal and Toronto expired on Oct. 31, 2022. Negotiations began in April and there have been 33 sessions so far this year.

While a strike isn’t likely in this case, the outcome will have spillover effects in the industry, labour experts say.

“The higher inflation rate, lower unemployment rate, and the costof-living crisis have all combined to give flight attendants greater confidence and leverage to demand more in bargaining,” said Larry Savage, chair of the department of labour studies at Brock University.

“Positive strike votes give workers increased power at the bargaining table and often succeed in pressuring employers to reach negotiated settlements that avoid the need for strike action,” Savage added.

Steven Tufts, associate professor at York University and spokesperson for the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council, the collective voice of Pearson airport’s largest unions, said that airlines’ bumpy pandemic recovery helps explain the grounds for future labour disputes.

“You have to keep in mind what these workers have experienced over the past collective agreements: they’ve been through a pandemic, they’ve had shutdowns and some have been laid off or furloughed, then recalled,” Tufts said.

Workers are now looking to make gains that will compensate previous contracts that “may have not delivered a great deal in the past,” he added.





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