Dear Air Canada AMEs and Skilled Trade Groups:
On May 29, 2023, the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) denied AMFA’s application for certification at Air Canada. The Board found that the application was not filed during an open period specified under the Canada Labour Code—a technicality manufactured by Air Canada and the IAMAW. However, the Board’s ruling would permit a renewed application as early as January 1, 2025.
Under the Code, the window during which a non-incumbent union may file for certification is dictated by the length of the current collective agreement. Where an agreement extends for more than three years, starting in the third year, the application window opens, in every year, during the three months preceding the anniversary of the agreement.
The evidence gathered by Air Canada organizers and submitted by AMFA overwhelmingly demonstrated that Air Canada skilled maintenance employees are currently subject to a ten-year collective agreement, extending from April 1, 2016, to March 31, 2026. In 2016, Air Canada and the IAMAW inked a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) setting wages and conditions of employment for the next ten years. In public communications, both the Company and the IAMAW described the MOA as a ten-year agreement. AMFA’s application was timely because it was filed in the last three months of the seventh year of the agreement.
In secret portions of the MOA, not shown to IAMAW membership prior to the 2016 ratification vote, Air Canada and the IAMAW agreed to artificially divide the MOA into three discrete sections, labeled as “collective agreements” by the parties. The only possible purpose of those MOA provisions was to insulate the IAMAW from challenges by other unions. What the IAMAW traded away for this concession is unclear, but it is clear that the divisions benefitted only the institutional interests of the union and not the interests of employees.
In response to AMFA’s certification application, Air Canada and the IAMAW jointly argued that the application was untimely because it was not filed during the open period applicable to a collective agreement extending from April 1, 2022, to March 31, 2026. The IAMAW additionally argued that AMFA’s application should be dismissed because a bargaining unit of skilled maintenance workers was discouraged under previous Board precedent.
The Board sided with the Company and the IAMAW on the issue of timeliness. It found that the purported existence of three successive collective agreements altered the application window that would otherwise have applied to the ten-year MOA. More specifically, AMFA’s application was held to be untimely because it was filed before the third year of the four-year agreement.
Importantly, the Board refused the IAMAW’s request to rule on the appropriateness of AMFA’s proposed bargaining unit. This refusal broke with past Board precedent denying previous attempts to form skill-based units at Air Canada. Fresh in the Board’s memory was its March 2023 decision that granted AMFA’s application for a skill-based unit at WestJet Airlines. In its briefing, AMFA had presented evidence that the trend in both the Canadian and American airline industries is towards skill-based bargaining units. Craft/trade union representation of skilled maintenance employees is the only way to ensure that those employees’ interests are protected and that safety standards are upheld.
The Board’s silence on the appropriateness of AMFA’s proposed unit should encourage Air Canada skilled maintenance employees. They should continue to organize and advocate for their collective craft interests both with the Company and within the IAMAW.
Pursuant to the Board’s decision, the next application period will open on January 1, 2025, three months prior to the third anniversary of the recognized collective agreement. Employees will have a fresh opportunity to escape from the IAMAW’s repressive representation, unfettered by technical hurdles created by the union and the Company.