Canadian North

Canadian North Pilots
A flight deck view of the northern lights. (Photo: Capt. Bill Rodgers [Canadian North])

As 2021 began, the Joint Negotiating Committee for the First Air and Canadian North pilot groups was busy at work. By February, the group was able to wrap up the initial round of bargaining with Canadian North management for the pilots’ first joint collective agreement. While those negotiations were held virtually due to regional COVID restrictions, which wasn’t the preferred method of bargaining for all involved, the parties agreed that it was important to continue the process on behalf of a combined pilot group under one collective agreement.

The virtual meetings with management were more productive than anticipated, with headway being made on several nonmonetary sections, including scheduling, and other proposals that were tentatively agreed upon. Canadian North pilots were pleased with the progress being made to merge the two airlines, which began more than two years before.

In spring, the company alerted flight crews to a very important upcoming change to the two familiar and long-standing call signs in the Canadian aviation industry. In the next step toward a unified Canadian North airline and pilot group, the “Empress” call sign was retired and replaced with Canadian North’s new identifier, “Arctic.”

As spring turned to summer, Canada’s aviation industry continued to face challenging times. Despite industry turmoil, the Joint Negotiating Committee remained focused on keeping up the momentum to achieve a collective agreement. With COVID-19 protocols still in place during Canada’s “third wave,” virtual negotiations continued.

“At a time when the outlook for the airline industry looked bleak, it was encouraging to see the members of our Joint Negotiating Committee working hard, alongside ALPA’s Economic & Financial Analysis team and ALPA’s Representation staff,” said Capt. Bill Rodgers, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “Participating from across the Northwest Territories, three provinces, and two countries was no small feat, but our team of volunteers was up for the challenge and remained productive, professional, and positive.”

While virtual negotiations were generally constructive, the pace and progress picked up significantly by the end of the summer once negotiations returned to traditional in-person bargaining with management.

By summer’s end, the Joint Negotiating Committee tabled almost all sections while continuing to flesh out key concerns and issues for the pilots, including work-life balance and pay. However, before further progress could be made the parties awaited a response from Transport Canada regarding an interpretation of Canada’s new flight- and duty-time regulations.

In September, after nearly three years of talks, COVID-19 lockdowns, travel restrictions, and the rapidly changing economic reality of the industry—coupled with the mammoth task of evaluating and comparing existing agreements and expectations to create a new collective agreement—the Joint Negotiating Committee presented what it believed was an industry-leading document that would benefit all pilots of the new unified group.

The pilots clearly agreed and successfully ratified the agreement. Of the 203 eligible voters, 180 (89 percent) took part, with a resounding 84 percent (152) of the pilots voting in favour of the tentative agreement, solidifying Canadian North as a premier airline for many years to come.

Members of the Merger Committee continue to meet face to face to start the process of forming a single integrated seniority list. Their meetings began in December, and committee members expect to conclude their work early in the new year.