February 23, 2012 / 8:28 PM / 5 years ago

Pilots at Canada's Porter Airlines in union drive

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The back of a Porter Airlines Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft is seen in Toronto February 23, 2009.Mark Blinch

TORONTO (Reuters) - Pilots at Canada's Porter Airlines Inc are attempting to form a union at the closely held short-haul carrier, an organizing drive that formally began in early January, a Porter pilot familiar with the situation said on Thursday.

A six-member interim executive for the Porter Airlines Pilots Association, or PAPA, has sent an email, obtained by Reuters, to scores of the airline's 250 or so pilots, urging them to sign membership cards.

The Canadian Industrial Relations Board would automatically certify the union if 50 percent of the pilots plus one sign cards. If the number falls short of that but reaches at least 35 percent, a membership ballot would take place, according to the e-mail.

If the organizing drive is successful, certification could come as early as July, the source said, noting the association has been offered support by unions at other Canadian airlines.

Porter competes directly with Air Canada, which has a history of disputes with its unionized workforce. To a lesser extent the smaller carrier competes with No. 2 WestJet, whose workforce is non-union. WestJet recently announced plans to start a regional carrier, which like Porter, will use turboprop planes on short-haul flights.

Porter Chief Executive Robert Deluce said he was aware of the union drive, which he said had been going on for some time.

"Porter respects our team members' rights to make decisions about their future and our team and culture are key factors differentiating us from other airlines," Deluce said in an interview. "I think we value everyone's views and input as an integral part of Porter."

Upstart Porter, which began operating in 2006, is best known for its flights to and from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, located on an island in Lake Ontario close to Toronto's financial center.

In addition to serving Toronto, Canada's largest city, it operates flights to other destinations in Eastern Canada as well as to U.S. cities, including New York, Boston and Chicago.

In January, Porter announced it flew 2.1 million passengers, a record for the rapidly expanding airline, and said it had added a new destination, Washington Dulles.

Last year, Porter said it had suspended plans for an initial public stock offering, put off by a shaky economic outlook and a sharp slide in equity markets.

"There's always the possibility of (a union) introducing additional costs to Porter ... in (an) airline business where margins are razor-thin at the best of times," said Robert Kokonis, managing director of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc.

A union application was granted to Porter's customer service agents in Ottawa last year, the board said.

The Porter source also told Reuters there was an unsuccessful effort to unionize the airline's flight attendants several months ago.

Reporting by Claire Sibonney; Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Galloway

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