Air North flight attendants to resume bargaining

It’s been a busy 48 hours for Air North and its unionized flight attendants. Monday: Flight attendants began work-to-rule and stopped serving food and beverages on some flights.

It’s been a busy 48 hours for Air North and its unionized flight attendants.

Monday: Flight attendants began work-to-rule and stopped serving food and beverages on some flights.

Tuesday: The company sent flight attendants home who refused to do their full duties and wear uniforms.

Today: Both sides have agreed to resume full service and go back to the bargaining table.

“We’re very pleased to report that late this evening we were approached by YEU/PSAC to continue negotiations,” Air North chief operations officer Allan Moore said in a statement last night.

“They have ended their job action, and the flight attendants will resume full service on our flights effective immediately.”

In a statement of its own, Yukon Employees Union said the flight attendants “wish to thank all those who have showed such powerful support during this challenging time.”

Both sides have agreed not to speak with media until talks are complete and have taken all their statements and updates from the past two days off the Internet.

The federal mediator will be restarting talks on Friday, three days earlier than was originally planned.

“This is a very positive development, and we’re grateful and relieved that after two very emotional days we’re able to build some momentum towards a resolution and continue with a clean slate,” Air North’s statement said.

The conflict between the two sides began Monday, when approximately 30 flight attendants represented by YEU began a work-to-rule campaign on selected flights.

They agreed to only do the minimum amount of work necessary to make the flights run safely, but nothing else. That meant no onboard food or beverages.

“Air North’s flight attendants have been at the bargaining table for close to a year but despite their optimism and hard work they are profoundly discouraged by the lack of progress,” the union wrote

in its announcement at the time.

“All avenues available to them through bargaining have been exhausted but critical issues remain unresolved with no agreement in sight.”

The two sides have been negotiating since October, 2013.

Some flight attendants working on the affected flights Monday showed up for work in T-shirts and jeans.

The next day, the company warned that any flight attendant who chose not to do their entire job, in full uniform, would be sent home. The company sent three flight attendants home that day and replaced them with a manager and two other staff who had been newly trained to do the job.

In a letter, president Joe Sparling accused the protesting flight attendants of bullying a colleague who had showed up to work in uniform and was trying to offer full service.

He also said the protest had put at risk a lucrative charter contract.

When the job action was announced on Monday, YEU president Steve Geick said 85 per cent of flight attendants voted in favour of the plan.

The flight attendants’ complaints have to do with work conditions and wages, the union says.

As part of the new agreement neither side is talking now, but earlier this week Geick said the flight attendants’ salaries are low compared to the industry standard for other similar airlines.

“When we say industry standard, we’re not comparing them to large airlines. We’re comparing them to airlines that operate north of 60… So, Air Canada Jazz, First Air,” he said. “All this stuff is compared to similar sized airlines that work in the North.”

Part of the dispute has to do with the company’s pay grid.

“All of the competitors have between six to eight levels. So if you were to start tomorrow, within six to eight years you would be at the top of the salary range. Air North has 16. So in order to be at the top salary as a flight attendant, you would have to work for them for 16 years,” Geick said.

Other sticking points include unpaid “grey days” where employees are expected to be ready to fly whether or not they get called into work, how employees are paid their minimum guaranteed work hours, and vacation pay.

“We do earn some vacation leave. However, our employer uses our vacation leave bank to top up our guaranteed minimum wages when they do not schedule us the promised 70 hours per month,” a union statement explained.

“That means we can’t really earn vacation time at all. On paper it appears we earn sick leave but the same rules apply; any sick time we’re paid for comes out of our vacation bank.

Sept. 19 was the first time the company saw a compensation proposal from the union dealing with salaries, Sparling said earlier this week.

He said many of the issues are tied to the company’s desire to avoid laying people off in the off-season.

He said the delays were not the fault of one side.

“We certainly haven’t done anything to avoid bargaining or meeting with the other side, and I don’t think the other side has done anything to avoid bargaining or meeting with us,” he said.

“It’s just the reality of when you’ve got labour lawyers and union representatives from out of town involved. It just takes time.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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