Cargojet Pilots
A B-767-300 at Calgary International Airport. (Photo: F/O Brett Slykerman [Cargojet])

A significant number of Cargojet pilots understood the advantage that a pilot-centric association could bring to the more than 300 aviators who fly for the airline. ALPA was the clear choice and the pilots were determined to obtain the representation they deserved, especially during the uncertainty of the pandemic. This was fueled, in part, by the company’s attempt to request a carveout from the new flight-time/duty-time regulations that became effective in December 2020. The Master Executive Council (MEC) had never agreed with management’s position and worked with other associations in Canada to have cargo operations included in the updated regulations.

Shortly after the new regulations were enacted, the company approached the pilots, who at the time were part of another union, requesting their support in seeking an exemption. The pilots voted overwhelmingly not to support the exemption. The company’s action led the pilot group to seek representation from ALPA, a pilot-led, staff-supported union that exclusively represents airline pilots. The fact that ALPA is the preeminent pilot union in North America was paramount in Cargojet members seeking to switch representation. In late August, the pilots voted by a margin of 239–17 to elect ALPA as their bargaining representative.

Under Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) rules, the process to change representation is arduous, but the pilots knew the importance of the task at hand. “Because we were in our ‘open period’ to change representation, we had to work diligently to accomplish the change,” said Capt. Shane Neville, the pilots’ interim MEC chair. “I’m very proud of our pilot group for stepping up to the challenge and accomplishing the task in a little more than a month from start to finish. The subsequent CIRB vote was an overwhelming affirmation that Cargojet pilots recognize the benefits of an association that understands and will protect our profession.”

As the pilots awaited the final CIRB certification, ALPA filed an unfair labour practice (ULP) complaint with the CIRB against the company. The complaint asserted that Cargojet management violated several sections of the Canada Labour Code by unreasonably terminating 23 pilots before the expiration of their probation while continuing to hire new pilots.

These terminations took place just weeks after the pilots voted in favour of ALPA representation. ALPA declared in the filing that all 23 pilots terminated by the airline were active supporters of the Association. Three were involved in ALPA’s organizing efforts and served on the pilots’ Organizing Committee.

These pilots were fired five days after the CIRB announced the results of the ALPA certification vote and just before bargaining rights had been officially transferred to ALPA. The Association continues to work this issue through the labour code. In November, the pilots and the company took part in mediation regarding the ULP, and another meeting is scheduled for early 2022.

With ALPA representation, Cargojet pilots are receiving the tremendous support they fought so hard to secure. The Association collaborated with the company on a COVID side letter agreement with the intent to carve out protections for unvaccinated pilots or pilots seeking an exemption. The agreement provides that a leave of absence will be considered indefinite in duration up to a maximum of two years and that flightcrew members will be permitted to retain and accrue seniority for the period of the leave of absence.

“The support and professionalism from ALPA after certification proved that our decision and effort was well worth the challenges,” Neville remarked. “We’re now holding elections for MEC officers and setting up our committee structure. Another essential task is improving our relationship with management.”

The pilots’ collective agreement is in effect until June 2026, “so we’ll have to wait for ALPA’s use of pattern bargaining to benefit our pilot group, but we’ve already seen the benefits of ALPA’s expertise and resources,” Neville said. “With Cargojet’s continued international expansion, our pilots know that ALPA’s role within the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations will be invaluable, especially if we encounter issues outside our borders. We’re very happy to be part of an association that will promote and protect our careers and profession.”