Air Canada’s 3,800 sales and service agents officially struck at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, marking the national airline’s first major strike in 13 years.
The company said it would keep flying a full schedule.
Canadian Auto Workers union members set up picket lines in major airports nationwide after contract negotiations failed essentially on one issue — Air Canada’s intention to set up a two-tier pension plan. Air Canada would retain for existing employees their “defined benefits” pensions but plan to establish a lesser “defined contributions” plan for new hires by next January.
Air Canada strike news from JOC:
Canada Postal Strike Expands, Airline Walkout Looms.
Meanwhile, Canada’s national postal service faced a ramping up of walkouts in 10 cities, from 10 days of rotating strikes at one and two urban centers daily.
Air Canada said it was ready “to resume discussions at any time,” as did CAW president Ken Lewenza. More than 1,700 Air Canada managers would fill in for the 3,200 airport check-in agents and 600 call center staff, Chief Operating Officer Duncan Dee, said in a statement. But he warned travelers to expect long lineups and urged them to “avoid checking baggage if at all possible.”
Along with lesser pensions for new employees, Air Canada plans to increase the minimum retirement age by five years, alter the funding details to reduce the company’s commitment as well as other measures to reduce its C$2.1 billion (US$2.15 billion) pension solvency deficit.
More trouble may be ahead for Air Canada as additional unions, currently in negotiations on contracts with the airline, are committed to opposing the pension proposals. These include the 3,000-member Air Canada Pilots Association, which last month rejected a tentative labor pact in which new employees would receive the lesser pension plan and support for a new low-cost carrier to be established with different wages and benefits for employees.
Other unions represent mechanics, ground crew, and flight attendants.