* Arbitrators set for disputes with pilots, machinists
* Unions are challenging constitutionality of federal law
* Talks lined-up between the company and its unions
By Euan Rocha
TORONTO, May 2 The Canadian government said on
Wednesday it has appointed two arbitrators in a bid to resolve
drawn-out labor contract disputes between Air Canada
and its pilots and machinists unions.
The country's No. 1 airline has seen its profits hurt over
the past year by rising fuel costs and a steady stream of feuds
with its unions. Its shares, which have fallen nearly 60 percent
in the last 12 months, closed on Wednesday at 96 Canadian cents
a share on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Air Canada was able to avoid major strikes by the pilots'
and machinists' unions earlier this year after the government
passed a law that prevented the two unions from striking and Air
Canada from locking union members out. The legislation also sent
the contract disputes to binding arbitration.
Despite the legislation, Air Canada's operations have been
hurt over the last two months by wildcat strikes involving the
members of both unions. The short-lived strikes have caused many
flight cancellations and chaos at airports across the country.
Both unions have challenged the law as unconstitutional, but
have agreed to participate in the binding arbitration process.
The government has appointed Douglas Stanley as arbitrator
in the dispute between Air Canada and the Air Canada Pilots
Association (ACPA). It named Michel Picher as arbitrator to help
resolve the dispute between Air Canada and the International
Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW).
IAMAW, which represents 8,600 mechanics, baggage handlers
and cargo agents, is the airline's largest union. Its contract
with the airline expired on March 31, 2011 and a tentative deal
was rejected by workers in February this year.
ACPA represents about 3,000 pilots employed by Air Canada,
and its collective agreement also expired last March. Earlier
this year, the pilots voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike
after rejecting a tentative offer. The union is concerned by Air
Canada's plans to set up a low-cost carrier, which it fears will
hurt job security and wages.
Air Canada, last month, said it would enter into 10-day
negotiations with both unions, after the government decided on
the arbitrators in the process.
Canada's Labour Minister Lisa Raitt urged both the company
and the unions to cooperate in the arbitration process.