Morningstar Air Express

Mesa Pilots
A FedEx Express B-757 operated by Morningstar Air Express on the ramp at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Last year was nothing short of a whirlwind for Morningstar Air Express pilots. The pilots overwhelmingly voted to join ALPA, and just a month later the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic began to make its way across the globe, causing many pilots and other aviation employees to wonder about the security of their jobs.

The journey for the Morningstar pilots began in February 2020 when pilot leaders investigated the possibility of switching from Unifor to ALPA as their bargaining representative. With legal clearance, ALPA’s card collection campaign started on February 9 and ended on February 21 with an overwhelming majority of pilots voting in favour of switching to ALPA. On that same day, ALPA filed with the Canada Industrial Relations Board to transfer the pilot group’s representation to the Association.

On April 14, an interim Morningstar Master Executive Council (MEC) was appointed by ALPA, composed of Capt. Jim Bergsma, chair; F/O Greg Hipwell, vice chair; and Capt. Tim Parker, secretary-treasurer, to help assist with the membership transition.

“We were already in the process of negotiating our collective agreement in early January 2020,” said Bergsma. “Now with the support and resources of ALPA, we’re poised to be in an even stronger bargaining position.”

While COVID-19 has had a devasting effect on many carriers, as the airline flying the Canadian-registered FedEx fleet, Morningstar saw its flying increase as FedEx started to move more freight, leading to an expansion of operations and the need for more pilots.

“Last spring and summer were actually busier than the previous year’s peak flying, and this year’s peak has just started and is expected to be the busiest ever,” Bergsma observed. “We’ve seen freight increase annually due to the popularity of e-commerce, and now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our flying continues to increase.”

This robust hiring at Morningstar increased the pilot workforce by 23 percent and provided job opportunities for pilots who’ve been furloughed from other airlines negatively affected by the pandemic.

Morningstar’s expansion of operations included adding a new aircraft in Vancouver, B.C., and hiring two additional pilots. The airline also added three new ATRs along with 22 additional pilots at its Calgary, Alb., pilot base.

In August, new MEC elections occurred, and Capt. Chad Claringbold was elected chair; F/O Mike Servos, vice chair; and Parker, secretary-treasurer.

Early in December, FedEx won a $70 million contract with the Canadian federal government to distribute the Moderna Therapeutics COVID-19 vaccine across the entire country. “Morningstar pilots transported the first shipments of the vaccine on December 24 and will continue to deliver shipments throughout the coming year to affected regions,” said Claringbold.

With the guidance and assistance of ALPA’s professional staff and expert negotiators, the pilots continue to bargain for their collective agreement. “COVID-19 has required negotiations to be done virtually, which has created some challenges,” Claringbold observed. “In addition, we experienced some early resistance from company negotiators in continuing negotiations during the pandemic, but recently we’ve resumed bargaining.”

The MEC and the pilot group’s Negotiating Committee remain positive that they’ll achieve the best possible agreement for the pilots in 2021.