With company restructuring nearly complete and pressure to accept concessions behind them, the pilots of Wasaya Airways are hopeful that they can begin a new chapter with their airline. During the restructuring phase that took place for much of the last two years, the airline, which serves communities throughout Ontario, pressured labor groups, including the pilots, to renegotiate their contracts.
“The company unilaterally cut our benefits and pension,” noted Capt. James Harding, the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chairman. “However, we grieved this action, went to mediation, and the lost money was awarded back to the pilot group,” he said.
These days, Wasaya is beginning to show signs of growth. The airline is looking at new routes to complement its flying network and is considering a fleet upgrade. The carrier is also hiring pilots but, like many regional carriers, is having difficulty finding qualified candidates. Harding attributes the growth and recent pilot optimism to the airline’s new senior management team. On June 8, 2015, Michael Rodyniuk became the airline’s latest president and CEO, succeeding Tom Morris. Rodyniuk brought with him several experienced executives, including new Vice President of Finance and CFO Nick Purich, who together take a more businesslike approach to the operation—one that has been welcomed by the airline’s 11 First Nation owner communities and the pilot group. Under its new leaders, the Ontario carrier is already seeing improvements in on-time performance, baggage and cargo handling, and general customer service.
In addition to the airline’s revamped operation, the new management team is actively engaging Wasaya’s pilot leaders. “Mr. Rodyniuk has contacted us on several occasions to share information and genuinely solicit feedback. We appreciate his efforts and look forward to what we hope will be a mutually beneficial relationship,” Harding said. As part of this effort to establish a good rapport, the MEC officers invited Rodyniuk to the ALPA Canada Board holiday reception in Ottawa, Ont., this past December where they spent time discussing problems that both groups recognize must be fixed for the airline’s continued restructuring efforts to truly become successful.
While the pilot group appears to be making inroads with the Wasaya’s senior management, it continues to face challenges with several mid-level managers who view the pilots’ collective agreement as an unnecessary distraction. To combat this situation, the pilot group maintains a robust dispute resolution system where they often turn to the government’s Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (FMCS) to provide an experienced conciliator to assist the parties in mediating their disputes. “While grievances can take time to process, we’ve found that mediation under the auspices of the FMCS has expedited resolution to our disputes in a manner that both parties generally find satisfactory,” said Harding. “It’s unfortunate that we even have to go down this path, but we remain optimistic that through our new senior management team, the days of willfully and intentionally violating our collective agreement will soon come to an end.”
The MEC served its notice to bargain just after the new year and looks forward to a collaborative and efficient round of collective bargaining under Rodyniuk’s leadership. The MEC leaders continue gearing up for negotiations to ensure that they represent their members’ goals for what will be the third contract since joining ALPA.
Meanwhile, the airline has added service to Sandy Lake and Big Trout Lake in Ontario and offers new nonstop service from Thunder Bay to Webequie and Pikangikum. The carrier recently removed one of its Dash 8s from service; however, the other Dash 8 continues to operate, flying gold-mining charters to the northwest portion of the province. Wasaya also added a B-1900 to the fleet and is contemplating the possible addition of Saab 340s to its aircraft mix later this year.
Wasaya maintains hubs in Thunder Bay and Sioux Lookout, Ont., offering scheduled and charter passenger and cargo service. The carrier transports food, clothing, bulk fuel, and other essentials to 25 remote communities in Ontario.
Sadly, the year ended on a somber note with the loss of Capt. Nick Little, who on December 11 was operating Wasaya Flight 127 that crashed in Pickle Lake, Ont. The accident is still under investigation.