November 7, 2011 / 4:55 PM / in 6 years

Air Canada attendants get labor deal they rejected

TORONTO (Reuters) - A federal arbitrator has imposed a labor contract on Air Canada’s flight attendants that they voted down in October.

<p>A man checks into an Air Canada flight at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto, September 20, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the airline’s 6,800 flight attendants, called the ruling “profoundly disappointing.”

“Awarding flight attendants an agreement they rejected a month ago does not in any way address serious workplace issues, and flight attendants are rightfully disappointed and angry,” Paul Moist, CUPW’s national president, said in a release.

The union said it would review the decision and consult with members on its next steps.

“Air Canada is pleased with this final and binding decision to implement the terms of the second tentative agreement that was reached with CUPE’s democratically elected leadership in September,” Chief Operating Officer Duncan Dee said in the airline’s release.

The flight attendants came to the brink of a strike in October after rejecting a second tentative settlement agreed between Air Canada and union representatives.

But the federal government effectively prevented a strike by taking the unusual step of asking the Canadian Industrial Relations Board, a quasi-judicial tribunal that administers and interprets parts of the Labour Code, to intervene in the dispute on the basis that a strike would pose a safety risk.

The union and the airline then agreed to let an arbitrator rule on the drawn-out contract dispute.

Major issues included working conditions, pensions for new hires and the airline’s planned low-cost carrier.

The selected agreement, posted online by one of the union’s locals earlier this year, eliminated a proposed agreement on the low-cost carrier. It included the same hybrid defined-benefit and defined-contribution pension plan that another arbitrator selected for the airline’s check-in and call-center staff.

The dispute is one of several facing Air Canada, the country’s largest airline, which is negotiating new contracts with other unionized workers, including mechanics and baggage handlers.

The airline recently asked a federal conciliator to oversee talks with the Air Canada Pilots Association, a move that starts the clock ticking toward the time when a legal strike or lock-out is possible.

Air Canada is also back in negotiations with the association that represents flight dispatchers, after its members rejected a tentative deal in August.

Reporting by Allison Martell; editing by Janet Guttsman and Rob Wilson

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