July 13, 2009 / 2:22 PM / in 8 years

Air Canada pilots okay labor deal in tight vote

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Pilots at Air Canada have narrowly voted in favor of a labor agreement, the union said on Monday, another important endorsement to help the cash-strapped carrier stave off bankruptcy.

<p>An Air Canada plane lands in front of a United plane at the Calgary International Airport in Calgary, Alberta, June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Todd Korol</p>

Shares in Air Canada rose after the result the Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA), the fourth of five labor unions to ratify tentative 21-month work and pension deals with the country’s biggest airline.

Hobbled by a sharp drop in global travel and tough domestic competition, debt-laden Air Canada has said lenders want labor peace before they will consider new loans to the carrier. The airline needs C$600 million ($522 million) in financing soon to help avert a second bankruptcy filing in six years.

Air Canada also needs contracts with all its unions before the Canadian government will grant the 21-month standstill the airline wants on funding its C$2.9 billion pension deficit.

ACPA, which represents 3,300 pilots at Canada’s biggest airline, said 55 percent of its members backed the pact. The deal freezes wages until spring 2011, but also protects the pilots in the event of insolvency and gives unionized workers a 15 percent stake in the company.

Serge Beaulieu, Chair of the Master Executive Council of ACPA, said that even though the vote was close “what matters most to both sides is that we want a viable company”.

“Pilots are concerned. The industry is in turmoil,” he said, mentioning British Airways request last month to staff to work for free as it battles to survive.

Air Canada “B” shares were up 7 Canadian cents, or 5 percent, at C$1.38 on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Variable voting “A” shares were 4 Canadian cents firmer at C$1.34.

The pilots’ vote follows a similar endorsement on Sunday from 63 percent of the airline’s flight attendants. Dispatchers and ticketing agents have also backed their contracts.

Results from a repeat vote by the International Association of Machinists and Aeropace Workers are expected around noon EDT (1600 GMT) on Wednesday, union spokesman Bill Trbovich said. The machinists initially rejected the tentative contract.

The repeat vote follows “clarifications” from Air Canada to machinists and maintenance workers, who are worried about losing their jobs.

Time is running short for Air Canada to secure loans and get pension moratorium approval. A C$100 million pension payment is due July 30 and another C$60 million on August 14.

($1 = $1.15 Canadian)

Editing by Janet Guttsman

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