An Air Georgian Beechcraft 1900D parked at Lethbridge Airport in Alberta, Canada.
For nearly 20 years, the pilots, flight attendants, and maintenance and administrative staff of Air Georgian Limited, an Air Canada Express carrier, made up one bargaining unit registered as the Ontario Regional Employee Association. But by the close of 2016, the in-house union had become unable to support the labour needs of the various employee groups.
“Expanded flying for Air Canada Express led us to triple our pilot numbers within just the last five years,” said Capt. James Macarthur, the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chairman. “We knew we needed to negotiate a new contract with industry-standard salaries as well as additional pilot-specific quality-of-life improvements.”
Approaching the expiration date of their collective bargaining agreement, the pilots looked to ALPA representation and the Association’s unmatched resources to advance their goals. In February 2017, with more than 85 percent of eligible pilots participating in the representation election, 99 percent voted in favour of joining the Association, sending a clear message that Air Georgian’s Toronto, Ont.- and Calgary, Alb.-based pilots recognized the importance of being members of the world’s largest and most influential pilots’ union. The other employee groups sent similar messages by voting for two other unions to best represent their respective needs.
“We welcome our colleagues at Air Georgian and look forward to the contributions they will bring to our union,” said Capt. Tim Canoll, ALPA’s president, after the results of the representation election were announced. “Air Georgian pilots are committed to advancing their careers and, by gaining access to ALPA’s professional resources, are now poised to achieve their goals. Through collaborative efforts, ALPA pilots across North America help to advance our profession and ensure that we maintain the safest air transport systems in the world.”
Despite a positive start, Air Georgian Limited took several opportunities to challenge the Canada Industrial Relations Board’s (CIRB) certification of ALPA as the bargaining representative for the Air Georgian pilots. The privately held carrier, which is headquartered in Mississauga, Ont., fought the CIRB’s decision with a lengthy appeal. The pilots’ MEC, backed by ALPA’s vast resources, succeeded in challenging the company’s application for reconsideration at the CIRB.
The pilots have also been successful regarding the handling and disposition of many grievances and arbitrations. But recently the MEC has had to move forward with an unfair labour practice (ULP) complaint against management, one that it had hoped could be withdrawn. The complaint stemmed from management’s refusal to, among other things, properly collect and remit ALPA dues and provide necessary information for bargaining. While it appeared that the matter worked itself out with management making good on the dues and providing some basic bargaining information, the company’s leadership team has forced the Association to proceed to a ULP hearing given its refusal to release pilot negotiators and provide the pertinent data needed for negotiations.
“The pilots’ morale has improved significantly since joining ALPA,” said Macarthur. “ALPA representation is providing the pilot group with needed stability and resources necessary to hold management accountable for its lawful duties, such as bargaining in good faith with employees.”
The Association is now representing the airline’s more than 260 pilots in negotiations. “This puts us on a much better footing to negotiate a pilot-centric contract—a first for this pilot group,” noted Macarthur. “We’re excited to move toward our new future by negotiating a strong collective agreement, and we’re prepared to assert all our legal rights to secure that agreement.”
In operation for more than 25 years, Air Georgian flies more than 550,000 passengers annually to about two dozen U.S. and Canadian destinations. With hubs at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and Calgary’s International Airport, the carrier’s fleet includes Bombardier CRJ200s and Beechcraft B1900Ds, flying for Air Canada Express.