A Convair 5800 stretch soaring through the skies over Victoria, B.C. (Photo: Brandon Siska)
After facing the challenges that COVID brought to the world and the airline industry in 2020, the pilots of Kelowna Flightcraft ushered in 2021 with high hopes for optimism and growth within their workplace. They understood the pandemic significantly altered the landscape of the industry, particularly for international passenger service. Fortunately for their own operation, the cargo sector in Canada remained relatively strong throughout the pandemic.
Despite their cautious optimism, the pilots also understood there would be challenges to overcome early into the new year, from the proper implementation of Canada’s updated flight- and duty-time rules to the resumption of contract talks.
Following the initial notice from the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) to bargain in early 2020 and the onset of the pandemic, the company requested a deferral of bargaining for six months, which the MEC ultimately agreed to.
After several delays due to COVID-19, the MEC’s Negotiating Committee finally held its first meeting with the company in late February 2021, nearly nine months after the previous contract had expired. Due to a Provincial Health Order issued by the government of British Columbia, the meeting had to be held virtually. Members of the MEC were joined remotely by ALPA staff from the Representation and Economic & Financial Analysis Departments.
“During the early rounds of negotiations in 2021, both sides exchanged their respective contract proposals for discussion,” said Capt. Graham Cartwright, the pilot group’s MEC chair. “Our initial proposals didn’t include wage rates since this is typically held back until the end so that other issues can be resolved first. A major positive to come out of those meetings was that we were quickly able to reach agreement on some key matters, including minimum flying hours for a supernumerary pilot, winter clothing allowances, and earlier vacation bid due dates.”
While other issues were left unresolved, further talks were scheduled throughout May and June and later into the summer that were slated to be held in person due to the easing of government-imposed pandemic restrictions. Contract discussions remained ongoing, with no collective agreement in place.
In addition to contract negotiations, the MEC and company focused on other issues throughout the fall and early winter, including the election of F/O Kesar Nizzar as MEC first officer representative and vice chair and handling the ramifications of the federal government’s mandatory vaccine policy for federally regulated workers.
Following the government vaccine mandate announcement, the company issued guidance that it would undertake the process of collecting information to gauge the level of vaccination among staff on a companywide, site-level, and departmental basis, which would be used to determine, modify, and/or implement additional health and safety measures. The company further confirmed that it had no plans to suspend or terminate unvaccinated staff following the government-imposed deadline of Oct. 30, 2021, stating its “goal is simply to ensure we have a safe environment for everyone.”
In December, contract negotiations intensified, resulting in a tentative agreement. With nearly 92 percent of eligible pilots participating, 73 percent voted to ratify the agreement that provides increasing wages, improved scheduling rules, vacation bidding, and uniform allowances. The pilots utilized a potential new business opportunity to leverage this negotiation and recover from an earlier concessionary collective agreement.
New pay scales were developed, with most pilots’ wages increasing by 21 percent. Management agreed that the focus should be on senior captains who had taken the brunt of earlier concessions. This included retroactive pay for nine months, which for some pilots will be more than $12,000. Equally important was the understanding that seniority would be used to bid on new pilot positions as the company had recently purchased two B-737s, with a future option for two more.