October 13, 2011 / 4:48 PM / in 6 years

Air Canada goes on offensive vs cabin crew union

(Reuters) - Air Canada rubbed salt into the wound of its flight attendants’ union on Thursday, filing an unfair labor practice complaint just hours after the union was forced by the federal government to cancel a planned strike at the airline.

<p>Air Canada aircraft are seen at Toronto Pearson International Airport, September 20, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>

In a submission to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB), Air Canada accused representatives of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) of bargaining in bad faith during the recent round of contract negotiations.

The airline, Canada’s biggest, said representatives of CUPE had portrayed to Air Canada negotiators that they knew what needed to be included in a tentative agreement to win the support of the 6,800 flight attendants.

As a result, Air Canada “revised its position to CUPE’s advantage in several key areas”, the filing said.

However, CUPE members rejected the deal - the second time they voted down a tentative agreement - and instead issued notice of a strike that was due to start on Thursday, until the federal government stepped in to halt it.

“Air Canada has been seriously compromised in its interests in consequence of CUPE’s inaccurate representations,” the airline said.

It said it was seeking unspecified damages to compensate it for losses incurred as a result of the union’s actions.

Union representatives were not immediately available to comment.

Labor experts said Air Canada’s complaint was unlikely to succeed.

“It can’t be bargaining in bad faith to put something to the membership and the membership rejects it, because that’s the point of putting something to the membership,” said Mary Cornish, a lawyer at Cavalluzzo Hayes Shilton McIntyre & Cornish in Toronto.

Pamela Chapman, law professor at the University of Ottawa, said she knew of no case law precedent to back up Air Canada’s argument.

The dispute between Air Canada and CUPE is already in front of the CIRB after federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt asked the labor board to decide if a strike would damage the health and safety of Canadians. The referral suspends any labor action until the board makes a decision.

Meanwhile, a small but noisy group of off-duty flight attendants and other supporters protested outside the constituency office of Raitt on Thursday, angry at her repeated intervention to stop strikes at the airline.

Other unions and opposition politicians were critical of what they regard as an increasingly anti-union stance by the Conservative government.

“No one wants a work stoppage, especially if you were planning to fly with Air Canada. But no one wants their rights taken away, either. The government should be protecting workers’ rights, not decimating them,” opposition Liberal Party labor critic Rodger Cuzner said in a statement.

Air Canada still needs to negotiate new contracts with four of its five unions this year, including its pilots and maintenance workers.

Air Canada’s stock was nearly 3 percent weaker at C$1.35 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday afternoon.

($1=$1.02 Canadian)

Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver and Allison Martell in Toronto; editing by Rob Wilson

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