New deal could mean fewer year round jobs: Air North

Air North says its tentative collective agreement with flight attendants will likely mean cutting back on year-round jobs. President Joe Sparling says that’s what happens when people want a bigger piece of a pie that hasn’t changed.

Air North says its tentative collective agreement with flight attendants will likely mean cutting back on year-round jobs.

President Joe Sparling says that’s what happens when people want a bigger piece of a pie that hasn’t changed.

“The total number of flight attendants that we employ will likely not change, but you’re going to see more seasonal employees and less full-time, year-round employees,” Sparling said this morning.

On Friday, the Yukon Employees Union, which represents about 30 flight attendants, released a statement saying it had ratified its first collective agreement.

In has been a tumultuous relationship between the two sides. Negotiations began in October 2013.

In September of this year, the flight attendants began a job action that lasted a few days.

Everyone agreed to go back to the table and a deal was reached.

YEU president Steve Geick said the deal was ratified at a series of meetings over the last two weeks. He wouldn’t say how many flight attendants agreed to it.

“I can say it was resounding,” he said.

The company hasn’t officially ratified the deal yet. Sparling says lawyers have to go over it to make sure that it says what everyone agreed to.

“If it does, the ratification should be fairly straightforward,” he said.

It appears both sides don’t see eye-to-eye on the consequences of the new collective agreement.

“I think you’ll see seasonal employees that will work for the peak season in the summer and they’ll work for full-time hours,” said Sparling. “They’ll probably revert to on-call in the winter where they’ll work only as required.”

Specifics about forthcoming changes to the number of full-time workers won’t be made public until the company ratifies the deal, said Sparling.

Geick, meanwhile, said it was his understanding that the number of full-time jobs wouldn’t change.

“It is my understanding from the negotiator – and I wasn’t at every meeting when they were negotiating – was that it was decided that there was going to be enough full-time work to sustain. So I’m not quite sure what he has in mind,” Geick said.

Geick said he would be speaking to the union’s negotiator for clarification.

One of the major issues in the dispute had to do with work hours.

Air North used to guarantee its full-time employees 70 hours of work a month. If that amount wasn’t met, their pay cheque could be bumped up using vacation pay.

That practice is no more, Geick said. Neither are “grey days.” Those are days when employees were required to be ready to work but may not have been called in.

A new scheduling system, based on seniority, will help streamline things, Geick said.

Geick said that under the new contract, the full-time work hours were bumped to 75 a month during the off-season and 80 during peak times.

On top of that, employees will be getting, on average, a five per cent pay increase over the three-year life of the deal.

The salary grid, which used to mean it took 16 years for a flight attendant to reach the top of the pay scale, has now been decreased to nine years.

Sparling said he’s happy that employees will be getting more hours, but he’s constrained by basic math.

“We’re happy, and in fact we’ve always encouraged flight attendants to work more hours, it’s a good thing for the company, a good thing for them. But the obvious outcome is that it requires less employees and that’s kind of what you’re going to see.”

Both sides sounded worn out by the process.

Geick is critical of the public backlash – particularly online – that the flight attendants got.

“What upset me the most was the comments about the flight attendants. The ‘glorified waitress’ kind of thing. ‘Go get a job at McDonalds, that’s what you do.’ These people are highly trained… and if something goes down on a plane, they’re the ones that are going to save your life. They’re they ones that have the training.”

Sparling said he’s also glad this part is over.

“I think it’s been a distraction. I’ve said so from the get-go, it’s been a needless distraction and we need to be all focused on the business of running the airline and making it profitable.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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