PAL Airlines and Air Borealis
A DHC-6-300 Twin Otter in Nain, Labrador.
The pilots at the two divisions of PAL Airlines Group—PAL Airlines and Air Borealis, working jointly under one Master Executive Council (MEC)—introduced steps during 2020 to further solidify their first collective agreements.
Shortly before the pilot groups started collecting cards for ALPA representation in early 2019, ALPA sought to represent both the PAL Airlines and Air Borealis pilots as one bargaining unit. However, management had already started the process to spin off Air Borealis as a separate entity under its own operating certificate, which required the Association to pivot and organize the two pilot groups separately with different government-issued bargaining unit certifications. After winning the representation elections, ALPA considered the two groups as one with separate local councils under one MEC.
Negotiations began at PAL Airlines early in 2020 with the MEC’s objective being a completed agreement by the end of the year. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacting the industry, negotiations have stalled, and the pilot group is now working to attain its first contract by the summer of 2021. Negotiations continue in a virtual environment, and bargaining has slowed down due to the subjects being negotiated—mainly the operational sections (e.g., training, scheduling, filling vacancies)—and management’s willingness to bargain only two days per month.
“There’s likely some larger scheme being contemplated by senior management executives at the holding-company level who believe that only offering ALPA two days a month at each of the company’s three airlines—PAL Airlines, Air Borealis, and PAL Aerospace—will drive a wedge between the pilots and the Association,” said F/O Conrad Reid, the group’s MEC chair. “Those executives don’t understand the resolve of our pilots, and we believe they’ll ultimately have to deal with the consequences of their actions,” Reid added.
In a multifaceted approach to dealing with this issue, the MEC has stepped up its Strategic Planning and Strike Preparedness Committee (SPSC). The group has already had initial meetings and is developing a strategy that will work in concert with the sister airlines and other carriers owned by the Exchange Income Corporation, which controls the airlines’ holding company. “Our SPSC will be working closely with the Association’s SPSC and will be leaning on the committee to help us further develop our plans and carry them out should the situation devolve further,” said Reid.
While the PAL Airlines pilots originally filed a notice to bargain in June 2019 and began monthly negotiations soon thereafter, management’s willingness to bargain wasn’t extended to the pilots within the company’s other division.
In April, Air Borealis pilot leaders sent management a letter requesting to begin bargaining. That letter went unanswered for several months. The pilots finally secured negotiation dates starting in the first quarter of this year, but the MEC continues to deal with a local management team that essentially refuses to work with the pilot leaders. “While it’s unclear whether the holding company’s executives really believe that if they ignore us we’ll just go away or whether this is part of a plan to destabilize our union, the fact remains that our pilots are committed to union representation and securing a fair collective agreement through ALPA’s efforts,” remarked Capt. Kristen Legge, the pilot group’s MEC vice chair.
“Although it may seem like a dark time at PAL Airlines, we’ve been able to achieve positive results within our negotiations that will benefit the pilots at our sister airlines as they begin bargaining. We remain cautiously optimistic that given time the executives within the other divisions will see the value ALPA brings to the airlines and cease resisting and resenting our presence,” Reid said.