Provincial and Air Borealis

F/O Conrad Reid, the Provincial and Air Borealis Master Executive Council chair, gets ready to take flight in Voisey’s Bay Mine in northern Labrador.

Typically it’s a long process bringing a new pilot group into ALPA—one that involves the work of organizing committees, pilot volunteers, and numerous staff members. However, in April 2019, Provincial Airlines pilots, including Air Borealis pilots, filed cards with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) and completed the fastest card drive in ALPA organizing history.

“For years, we had tried to work with our company,” said F/O Conrad Reid, the pilot groups’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “Bringing in ALPA was an act of both frustration and the need for change. We knew ALPA had the resources to help us bring a contract to our property and a better quality of life to our pilots.”

Provincial provides passenger, cargo, and charter service to 28 destination in the Newfoundland and Labrador province. Often pilots fly up to 14 hours and complete seven to nine legs each day. Provincial pilots operate Beachcraft 1900s and Dash 8s into regional airports in Montréal, Qué., and St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, while Air Borealis pilots fly Twin Otters from Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, to six towns along the coast of the Labrador Sea.

“Supported by our exemplary counter agents, ground crew, and maintenance staff, Provincial pilots are some of the most experienced pilots for these aircraft and fly in some of the worst weather in the world,” Reid observed. “We’re one of the few connections these towns have to the rest of Canada, and our cargo helps these communities keep going.”

Even before holding the card drive that brought them to ALPA, Provincial and Air Borealis pilots had good reason to be familiar with ALPA. Provincial is owned by the Exchange Income Corporation (EIC), which also owns Bearskin, Calm Air, and Perimeter and partly owns Wasaya. Although Provincial is the most profitable EIC airline, Provincial and Air Borealis pilots make well below the industry standard and haven’t had a raise since 2017.

Once the representation results were certified in June, the pilots pressed the company for negotiating dates, but the company resisted. From unilateral changes to work rules to refusing to recognize pilot leaders, the company sought to undermine the Association’s presence and forced ALPA to file a complaint in September 2019 with the CIRB citing unfair labour practices. ALPA withdrew the complaint in October 2019 in an effort to reestablish a good working relationship with the company after management entered discussions with the MEC. On January 7, the parties met for their first time to begin contract negotiations.

One issue that still required resolution was ALPA’s request for reconsideration of the bargaining unit description. Provincial and Air Borealis were certified as separate bargaining units with all pilots, including training and checking pilots at Air Borealis, considered part of the group represented by ALPA. However, at Provincial Airlines management fought to keep training and checking pilots out of the bargaining unit, which the government supported. ALPA was able to ultimately reach an agreement with management to include these pilots within the bargaining unit. “This was a good result for our pilots and brings us in line with most every other Canadian carrier from Air Canada to WestJet where training and checking pilots are bargaining unit members,” said Reid.

“We want a good relationship with management and our parent company, such as the relationships enjoyed by the pilots at other EIC-owned airlines,” Reid acknowledged. “But this is only possible if management recognizes—and respects—both our pilots and our union. As we’ve seen countless times both north and south of the border, ALPA pilot groups can accomplish a lot when management and labour decide to work together.”