Air Canada braces for March Break strike

Wed Mar 7, 2012 5:29pm EST
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By Nicole Mordant and Randall Palmer

VANCOUVER/OTTAWA (Reuters) - Air Canada braced on Wednesday for the possibility of a crippling strike during next week's busy March Break travel period even as Canada's labor minister signaled she was prepared to stop or limit any labor action if necessary.

Air Canada's 8,600 unionized mechanics, baggage handlers and cargo agents have said they will go on strike at one minute after midnight on Sunday night unless a contract agreement is reached beforehand, a move that analysts say would ground the country's biggest airline.

"If the machinists go out the airline does not fly. Period," said Robert Kokonis, managing director of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt urged the two sides to negotiate a deal to avoid a strike, saying a work stoppage was "not in the best interests of the Canadian public or Canadian businesses".

"The government of Canada is committed to doing what it takes to protect the public interest and help unions and employers achieve constructive labor relations," she said in a statement.

Speaking later in the House of Commons, Raitt said she was "very concerned" by the impending strike but made no mention of introducing back-to-work legislation or other means that she has used in the past to prevent or halt strikes at Air Canada.

Asked on CBC television if she would introduce such legislation, she said: "We're not there yet ... Right now we're in a watching mode."

A strike would come at an awkward time for Air Canada as next week is Spring Break for schools in many parts of Canada and March is generally a busy flying month.   Continued...

An Air Canada pilot walks to his plane at the International airport in Calgary, September 20, 2011. REUTERS/Todd Korol