Perimeter and Bearskin

A Perimeter Dash 8 on approach to Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.

At the end of 2018, the merger between Bearskin Airlines and Perimeter Aviation was completed, and Bearskin became a subsidiary brand operating under the Perimeter name. Although one airline under one certificate and operating under the same standard operating procedures, the two airlines serve different areas of Northern Ontario and Manitoba and different populations. Bearskin pilots generally fly passengers to the larger, more metropolitan cities of Ontario and Manitoba, while Perimeter flies a mixture of cargo and passengers to the more remote communities in those provinces.

While the merger of the two companies had been finalized, the two pilot groups were still very much separate. Bearskin pilots had been represented by ALPA for more than two decades, while Perimeter had been represented by Unifor, a private-sector union representing more than 300,000 members across a multitude of professions. In December 2018, Unifor sought to represent both pilot groups and filed an application with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB). ALPA replied the following month and requested a representation vote to determine the pilots’ bargaining representative.

On first glance, it seemed that it would be an easy win for Unifor as Perimeter had nearly three times the number of pilots as Bearskin. The Bearskin pilots enlisted ALPA to create an aggressive communications campaign highlighting the strengths of the Association, including that it was a pilot-led, staff-supported union, unlike Unifor, which represented a multitude of professions. Communications also emphasized ALPA’s successful bargaining history in Canada while refuting some of the inaccuracies in Unifor’s communications. Capt. Kim Steingass, Bearskin’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chair, visited each of Bearskin’s and Perimeter’s bases touting the benefits of being an ALPA member and how that differed from Unifor.

In May 2019, the representation election was held. And when the votes were counted, ALPA had not only won, but won decisively. With 93 percent of eligible pilots participating in the representation election, 74 percent voted in favour of joining ALPA.

“The pilots of Bearskin and Perimeter have the same mutual goal—ensuring the safety of our customers and cargo. It’s only fitting that we have the same union,” said Steingass when the CIRB certified the election. “Bearskin pilots have long felt that our future was enhanced by being part of ALPA, and we’re glad that our fellow pilots at Perimeter agreed with us in such large numbers.”

“Many of the Perimeter pilots saw the need for change,” said Capt. Riley Box, the Perimeter pilots’ MEC chair. “We appreciated the rich history of ALPA as well as how it was highly regarded within the aviation industry. Our pilots felt it was the best way to enhance our futures at a merged airline, and the margin of the vote reflected those feelings.”

With the representation election determined, Perimeter pilots selected their temporary MEC and immediately got to work with Bearskin leaders to create a cohesive pilot group. While Perimeter pilots are becoming acclimated with ALPA, pilot leaders are also working with management to build a mutually beneficial relationship.

“We’re encouraging Perimeter management to see us as a partner,” Steingass noted. “Many issues can be resolved if we work together from the start, rather than waiting for the problem to happen. It’s a change in culture, but the long-term benefits to the company as a whole are obvious.”

As both pilot groups are now represented by ALPA, their merger is overseen by ALPA’s merger policy, and work is beginning on negotiating a joint collective agreement, which will be followed by an integrated seniority list and finally a merged MEC. The goal is to have the entire process completed this year.

“We’re looking forward to our first ALPA contract,” said Box. “We’re committed to making sure our pilots, both Perimeter and Bearskin, get the contract they’ve earned, and we encourage our pilots to settle for nothing less.”