Why it’s okay to intervene in Air Canada’s labour dispute

by Aaron Wherry

An exchange from the Prime Minister’s media availability in Toronto this afternoon.

Reporter: Prime Minister, why is the government treating Air Canada as if it is a state-owned company by meddling in a private sector labour dispute, rather than allow the free market forces determine and set the price of labour? Why act pre-emptively and subvert the collective bargaining process? And what message are you sending to other countries, other airlines that provide competition, like Porter, whose pilots and flight attendants are with us today?

Stephen Harper: First of all, the position of Air Canada is different. Let me be very clear about this. It is far and away the largest airline of the country, and a shutdown of service on that airline would have significant impact, not only on airline service to Canadians, but on the transportation system as a whole, and potentially on the Canadian economy. Air Canada came to us during the economic crisis, during the global crisis, and asked specifically for government assistance in a number of areas, because of the dangers shutting down the airline would represent to the Canadian economy. I’ll be darned if we will now sit by and let the airline shut itself down. Under these circumstances, at the present time, this is not what the economy needs, and it is certainly not what the travelling public needs at this time of year. So as much as there’s a side of me that doesn’t like to do this, I think these actions are essential to keep the airline flying, to make sure there is … the two parties find some way through mediation, arbitration, of resolving these disputes without having impacts on the Canadian public. My concern is not management or labour. My concern is the broader Canadian public, and I think the broader Canadian public overwhelmingly expects the government to act.




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Why it’s okay to intervene in Air Canada’s labour dispute

  1. Didn’t it take Chretien at least a few majorities to so completely abandon principles?

    For a man who ostensibly hates socialism so much, Harper’s awfully quick to embrace Soviet logic.

    • Well, fascism also tends toward this kind of autocratic control; between socialism and fascism, which do you think he really leans toward?

      • He’s not really much of a fascist – there’s a lot more to that approach than autocratic control.  Fascism has a very strong moral and sentimental component that is all but absent from Harper’s worldview.

        I maintain he’s not too far off a Soviet-style socialist  - increasingly defining the federal government as the central planner for our economy (both overtly and by disinterest in most things non-economic).

        • look up “State Capitalism”. Parse the difference between that and Fascism.

          • That probably is the more apt category, as opposed to fascism witht it’s cultural, social and unity overtones. 

          • It’s a more polite, contemporary, political correct version, if you will, of Fascism; softer, more polite.
            No, we’re trying to make Mussolini allusions. Hitler was a Nationalist. Mussolini was a Fascist. Harper is a small ‘f’ fascist. he does have a more subtle, contemporary philosophy to cover it.

        • “Fascism has a very strong moral and sentimental component that is all but absent from Harper’s worldview.”

          Robust military; nostalgia for “traditional” family, Queen and country; patriotic pursuit of Canadian hegemony; retributive, as opposed to restorative, criminal code (eye for an eye); strong fundamentalist Christian undercurrent?

          Which of these is not strongly “moral and sentimental”? And which part isn’t integral to Harper’s dogma?

          As for a commitment to central planning, while he may be a control freak in micromanaging his government out of the PMO, his administration is dedicated to “smallifying” the role of governments in general and Ottawa in particular. His rigid interpretation of the Constitution means almost obtusely staying out of provincial jurisdiction. That’s hardly planned centralism.

        • From the definitions section of the Wikipedia entry on fascism:

          For Griffin, fascism is “a genuinely revolutionary, trans-class form of anti-liberal, and in the last analysis, anti-conservative nationalism” built on a complex range of theoretical and cultural influences. He distinguishes an inter-war period in which it manifested itself in elite-led but populist “armed party” politics opposing socialism and liberalism and promising radical politics to rescue the nation from decadence.[44] Mussolini said that Fascism is revolutionary against liberalism “since it wants to reduce the size of the State to its necessary functions.”[

          Not a perfect match, but closer than the “socialist” label. I don’t think either label really fits him or his government, but their leanings are, IMO, more fascist than socialist.

      • My votes on fascist  – fits his character.

        • I might be very wrong, but it seems to me that too often folks who call Harper a fascist (particularly in the narrow sense of his control-freak tendencies) are trying to find a way to make Hitler allusions indirectly.  Which is both distasteful and an impediment to analysis.  You may very well have no such intention, but I think we need to fairly acknowledge that calling someone a fascist has pretty much been so abused as to be covered by Godwin’s law.

          And for the record, I too would be a control freak if that was my caucus.

          • Not me — just check out the definitions of fascism — This is Robert Paxton’s defintion (taken from wikipedia) ”
            A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

          • Right-wingers like to throw around “socialist” a lot as if it were some unspeakable evil. You yourself have conflated socialism with communism – see your “Soviet” references. Speaking of abuse of terms…

            It was because of your reference that I trotted out the fascist one. Though, as I said, I don’t think either is appropriate here; they are both extremely hyperbolic references.

  2. “Let me be very clear about this.”

    Why do I wince whenever Harper or his sock puppet Del Mastro utter variations on this fatuous phrase, which they both do frequently (often within one exchange)?

    • Yes, it’s yet further proof that he’s Evil.

      In fact, everything is proof that he’s Evil.

      •  Um…I think you need a med review. Your paranoia is breaking out again.

    • It’s the phrase of the year. “Obviously” is so 2011.

      •  And in the Harris government that partly staffed the Harper regime: “frankly”

    •  I agree!  I think Harper and most of his caucus must have all taken the same public speaking seminar because they all say it.  Perhaps it comes from the orientation package they all received as new Conservative MPs -  you know – the one entitled “Don’t Say Anything Stupid or Controversial At Least Until We Get A Majority or Better Yet Don’t Say Anything!”

  3. Also, you’ve gotta love the  ”…this is not what the economy needs … as much as there’s a side of me that doesn’t like to do this…”  line of crap.  [and that's the kindest parsing, since he includes inconvenienced travelers in his reasons]
    Harper’s the kind of guy who would have been against slavery in past days, but would have dolefully shrugged and claimed the potential economic and social disruption made it untenable to abolish.

    • ridiculous hyperbole.

      • So you agree with his reasoning?

  4. Give it a rest Harper! You already promised back-to-work legislation if the handlers walked out, so the optics of letting the airline lock out the pilots would have left the public with no doubt that you have an ultimate goal of breaking the unions. And there’s nothing you hate more than a naked display of your true intentions if you think it might cost you votes.

  5. Well that and the fact unions are a popular Con scapegoat.

  6. Why on earth is he protecting this airline?  I just don’t get it.

    • He hasn’t redeemed his Aeroplan points.

  7. So do you think he should be interfering in a private company like this?

    • Would he intervene in a Greyhound strike (the mode of transport for people who can’t afford the plane)? I doubt it.

      • Greyhound is practically out of business on the prairies.  It no longer services any small towns or even medium size cities in Northern Alberta and nobody cares.  This intervention with Air Canada is about saving jobs in certain parts of Canada.

    • That was directed at Mr. Bean…

      • Since you asked, I think the reporter’s question is loaded.  To call Air Canada a “private company” ignores a lot.  Yes, it has some key features of a private company.  But on the other hand, it operates in an intensely regulated environment, and (particularly with respect to certain routes) it operates as a quasi-monopoly or de facto monopoly.  The whole airline industry is beset with massive distortions with respect to the operation of a truly free market, as any airline industry analyst will tell you (e.g., extreme restrictions with respect to awarding of gates, routes, and rights of cabotage).  I’m not arguing that those restrictions aren’t justified; I’m just pointing out that they exist.

        The reporter’s question makes out like this is just any old “private sector” strike (akin to hotel workers going out on strike), and that’s a bit cute, IMO.

        Air Canada’s a bloody basket case anyway.  Watching its piss-poor labour relations and regular brushes with bankruptcy play out is like watching a dog die.  I don’t think there’s any good solution to any of this, it’s a bloody mess, and partly a product of the fact that AC has a uniquely incomprehensible crazy-quilt mix of unions and bargaining units, as a result of its patchwork corporate history (ex-Crown corporation, plus Canadian Airlines, plus PWA, plus Wardair, etc.).  Sometimes I just wish someone would take AC out and shoot it.

        • Seems like the union might be trying to.

  8. So, howcum the Con labour police didn’t intervene in the Caterpillar travesty?

    Oh yeah, I forgot already: “broader public interest” [vaguely undefined and deliberately so].

      • Oh pleeese!  Do workers and unions and employers take no responsibility for their actions?  When there is a recession, workers make concessions…nurses unions took pay freezes and roll backs.  Unskilled labor cannot expect to be paid $32.00/hr when the economy is in the toilet.  If the employer says it go elsewhere and get an unskilled worker for $16.00/hr., the employees need to start negotiating wage rollbacks because the taxpayers are not going to stomach subsidizing half the wages so people won’t have to face reality.

        • You seem to have decided my opinion on the EMD negotiations.

          cartoon life dougsamu.wordpress.com

    • The “Caterpillar travesty”….by that you mean when the employer asked unskilled laborers who were making $32.00/hr to take a 50% paycut because they could move the business to the US and get laborers for that price there?  My question to you is, why didn’t the union come back with an alternate offer, perhaps $20.00/hr.  I know it was a big wage drop BUT these were unskilled workers (NO SKILLS) and considering that a university educated registered nurse at the top of the scale in Quebec makes $32.00/hr., I don’t know that what they were making was really justified.  But no, there was indignation and no negotiation and everyone is out of work because the company moved south.  So are you suggesting the government should have offered tax cuts to Caterpiller so unskilled workers could continue to make $32.00/hr? 
      Or are you suggesting that they do nothing to intervene with Air Canada after Canadian tax dollars have saved the company from bankruptcy?  The problem is that with the death of Air Canada comes big job losses and cries from the unions and the unemployed and the opposition to prop up the business.

      •  
        I have no intention of commenting on negotiation strategies in either case and, unless you have inside information to share, neither should you. I’m merely pointing out that this government is conveniently inconsistent in its labour policies.


      • My question to you is, why didn’t the union come back with an alternate offer, perhaps $20.00/hr. 

        How do you know they wouldn’t have? 

        My memory of the Caterpillar ”negotiation” was that the company offered a 50% wage cut, take it or leave it, and then immediately locked the workers out when they didn’t just take it.  We have no idea what the worker’s negotiating position would have been, because the company refused to enter negotiations.  That was the union’s biggest complaint, that a 50% “take it or leave it” wage cut followed by a lockout is in no way “negotiating in good faith”.

  9. Interesting trivia – the failed Con candidate in the Guelph riding, Burke, is an AC pilot.

  10. “Far and away the largest airline in the country”

    So much for encouraging competition.  Is he seriously trying to say that no combination of any of the other airlines we have in Canada can do what Air Canada does?

  11. FA Hayek ~ Unionism as it is now tends to produce that very system of overall socialist planning which few unions want and which, indeed, it is in their best interest to avoid

    Unions are terrible in North America, they are anti-business and slowly disappearing. I know about unions for auto industry in Europe/Japan/S Korea, and North America, and it is entirely different culture. Unions in other countries work together with management to direct future of company, to share spoils of their labour, while here in North America it is adversarial and workers are going to strike themselves out of jobs soon enough.

    Working classes have been poorly served by union management in North America. Unions should study other unions in Germany/Japan and see how they operate. Unions would be more useful to their members here if they worked with mgmt to kept their jobs instead of striking and then ending up unemployed. Union employees always keep their jobs but the people they represent continually lose theirs.

  12. I see almost everybody here have taken the opportunity to disagree with Harper`s action re Air Canada.
    That`s not unusual here.
    When Harper says his concern is with the Canadian public, he is showing he knows what the public want.
    When the locals here use this opportunity to call Harper a fascist they are showing they are completely out of touch with reality.
    You have made yourselves so stupid that you do not realize that 90% of Canadians are in agreement with Harper on this story.

    • Missing the issue completely there Ellen.  Put on your thinker’s cap.

      • The public knows the issue is the bloody mess { as OB clearly stated earlier}  that is the history of Air Canada and it`s 47 unions.
        Go ask someone at the airport if they are happy to have someone who will put them in their place.

      • Yes and no. She’s bringing up another point of the issue. 

        The problem we’re having, Jan, is that folks like you and I feel that consistency in governance — the ability to predict, ahead of time, what government is likely to do based on evidence and previously stated positions or promises — is an important trait.

        Mr. Harper does not. Mr. Harper governs on populism. What is popular today is what he does. Regardless of how short-sighted, hypocritical, or downright wrong it may end up being. If it is what the people want today, it is what he will do today. If it is the opposite of what they want tomorrow, he will do the opposite tomorrow. 

        And what’s wrong with that, folks like Ellen might ask.

        The problem is that governance is supposed to be leadership. You don’t lead by following the group.

        • Excellent post once again, Thwim.

          • Gee, Patchouli….if Air Canada goes under, how many will be unemployed in your region?

          • Lots in mine; I drive right past Pearson every day. But we’ve already established we’re on opposite sides on this one, so if you haven’t figured it out yet – I’m with Thwim, and agree with Patchouli that Thwim’s was an excellent post.

        • After years of goverance by Liberal and PC governments where it was thought necessary to keep management and unions happy in such monopolies as Canada Post and Air Canada we now have a situation where a bunch of over-paid and incompetent entitlers decide they can disrupt the Canadian economy at March break.
          Is that the kind of consistency you want?
          Fortunately the Canadian public want something different and we have a leader who is not afraid to stand up to these bullies and do what is good for the people.

          You will be afraid to admit it but isn`t the real reason why you dislike Harper`s action on this story because you know the public will look favorably on that type of brave leader when the next election happens. 

          • If the airline and its workers are that arrogant, let them strike / lock out and let them face the consequences of their actions.

            Lots of Conservatives like you were bemoaning the GM / Chrysler bailouts a few years ago and were willing to let them go under; why are you all now backing this further interference in the capitalist system?

            You see Harper as standing up to bullies. I just see a bigger bully.

        • Populism is supporting the rights and power of the people.  An elected official represents the people that elect him/her.  If you want to stay in office, you do what the people want you to do.  The Liberals plan to get into office just that way…by legalizing cannabis….because the majority of the people think it is the right thing to do.  The majority of the people have no sympathy for striking airline employees whose company is suffering because of appalling customer service.  Therefore, they are in support of binding arbitration.  Vic Toews internet “snooping bill” will not be passed in its current state because of its lack of populist support among the Conservative base.  This is the way of political survival….it is how the Conservative Party has remained in power in Alberta for 41 years and why they stumbled under Ed Stelmach….he didn’t get it…when you don’t please the taxpayers, you lose their support and you are on the way out.  As for your assertion that the populist is fickle or stupid, I disagree…healthcare and the economy have consistently been the top issues for voters for years.  Further, they have bailed out Air Canada consistenly and they are not pleased at propect of it going under because union leaders can’t see the forest for the trees.

          • You do not legislate a private, non-essential service such as Air Canada back to work due to ‘appalling customer service’.

            If Harper, however, wants to open up debate about making Air Canada an essential service so its unions could safely fall under the legislative whims of the HoC, then by all means he can. But as far as I know, he’s keen to shy away on any debate so it’s just going to be continued “Nonessential Essential” status for Air Canada.

          • Unfortunately, some of us tend to hope that politicians have other goals than simply staying in power.

            Hence my comment about you can’t lead if you’re simply following everybody.

            Do you want to discount the public opinion at all times? Of course not. Often it’s what it is for a reason. However if *all* you’re basing your decisions on is what’ll keep the most people happy/you in power,  you’re not governing, you’re pandering.

            The reason we *have* government, after all, is so that we have a class of people who have the time and resources to devote specifically to looking at the bigger picture and making decisions that help the most of us in the long run — thus allowing us to concentrate on the short run, which is much easier for us to do as individuals, and also easier considering that we have to spend most of our time and resources in simply surviving.

            A government that continually panders to the people is failing at its job of keeping our short term interests from overwhelming the long-term pitfalls we set up for ourselves because we simply don’t have the time, resources, or information to be able to plan for it properly.

          • Hence the new Liberal slogan:

            The Desires of the People are Meaningless.

            Liberals have no faith that the people know what is good for them. 
            Liberals believe in pandering to those groups that can be identified as their friends.
            Meanwhile the LPC becomes an increasingly less relevant Party for the people.

          • Are you capable of thinking anything beyond slurs and half-ass defenses? Maybe actually add to a conversation instead of trying to always simply kill it?

          • The Liberal enjoys spending his time drinking his own bathwater among his fellows as he spirals into irrelevancy, however if he wants to improve he must learn to listen to others.

          • Here’s the thing, I don’t give a rats ass about the Liberals. They’re not even the official opposition. They’re irrelevant and so your obsession with them is just plain sad.

            Yet it seems to be all you’ve got. Which is why people tend to think you’re part of the CPC war-room, because you can’t help but making sure every comment is along the lines of how the Liberals did the same thing, so that must make it okay for the CPC. You seem to have forgotten that we turfed the Liberals for what they did.

          • So sorry with your disillusionment with the Liberals.
            It might be time for you to start up a new Party.

          • Whatever, you CPC hack. Go back under your bridge, I’m done playing with you.

    • You mean you’re suggesting that the Wherryites might not be a perfectly representative sample of overall Canadian public opinion?  A bold assertion . . . :)

      • They are representative of a dwindling and disappearing group.

    • I wasn’t calling him as fascist. I was defending him from the slur of “socialist”. You should be thanking me! :-)

      Seriously, go back and read what I said – with open eyes and mind for once. I said that, given the labels “socialist” [and as it came with the word "Soviet" attached, what was meant was "commie"] or “fascist”, that the latter was closer to reality – but I then said neither label really fits.

      So thanks for once again taking things I say out of context.

      • Too late to explain now. 
        Much of the world has suffered under autocratic, fascist, and socialist regimes and are envious of those of us who are fortunate to live in Canada and you fools get into a discussion about which category you want for our PM.

        I know you are all just playing word games but maybe it`s time to grow up.

        • Sounds like you’re just here to lecture us not kick around politics.  Here’s a hint, you are not making any inroads.  Take the message back to HQ.

        • Not explaining so much as pointing out that you read into things what you want to imagine is there, rather than what actually is there. Says a lot about you & your viewpoints.


  13. Air Canada came to us during the economic crisis, during the global crisis, and asked specifically for government assistance in a number of areas, because of the dangers shutting down the airline would represent to the Canadian economy. I’ll be darned if we will now sit by and let the airline shut itself down.

    So, in other words, whatever management at Air Canada wants, management gets.  If they fail to plan for higher fuel prices or economic lean times, the government will bail them out.  If they’re incapable of negotiating with their employees, the government will bail them out.  There is no level of incompetence that the executives at Air Canada can display whereby the government will not bail them out.

    Yay free markets!

    Open the market to competition and be done with it if that’s what you really believe in, but bailing Air Canada out time and time again is ludicrous.  ESPECIALLY for the “Conservatives”.

  14. David
    ‎”For all my non-Air Canada friends.

    As you may have heard ground operations and maintenance have issued a strike notice for Monday morning. And although nobody wants it to come to this, it is undoubtedly the most important first step workers can make against greedy CEOs and executives who steal from their employees. We have given up so much to make Canada’s national carrier continue to fly over the past 10 years. Just a few notes for my non-Aircanada friends who think that we’re just greedy union people. These are the things the newspapers won’t print.

    1: The company sold assets in excess of $2 billion. Yet, at no time were they willing to address the pension deficit with these profits. Management lined their pockets with millions in bonuses. They still owe us 2.3 B

    2: Ground personal, Pilots, Flight Attendants, Sales and all other front line personal have not had a raise in over 10 YEARS! Not even a cost of living.

    3: Today the members across the board are earning less in real terms than they did after the CCAA hearings in 2002.

    4: We have had 3 CEOs in the past 10 years. Robert Milton managed a profitable airline into the ground. He took up to 100 million and walked away. Next was Montie Brewer. He walked away with up to 20 million in just a few years. Now we have Calin Rovinescu who is about to pick up 5 million in a retention bonus.

    5: During CCAA proceedings in 2004 Air Canada employees took upwards of 30% in pay and benefit cuts. Which include health, pay, and vacation time lost in order to keep the airline flying. Non of which has been returned although Aircanada has been very profitable.

    6: This original contract had expired in March 2009. Air Canada unionized employees agreed to extend the contract for 21 months because the company again was crying broke. We allowed Air Canada to stop making payments into the pension during that time and they had agreed to negotiate in good faith starting March 2011. It’s now 2012 and we are still going backwards!

    7: Air Canada is a private business. We are NOT a government run Airline! Stay out of it Lisa Raitt! (labour minister).

    8: Many of you I am sure are reading the papers about us and see that we were offered a tentative agreement. However, what needs to be realized is that this “TA” was full of back heavy concessions. Everything was concessionary, after a decade of cuttings and hundred of millions of dollars taking away by the greedy executives in bonuses and compensations. They sold all of the profitable assets, avoided the pension deficits, increased their base salary by 1500% and drove down the stock price under a dollar. These are the things that the general public is unaware of.

    9: And finaly to our customers. We apologize in advance for any disruptions to your travel/business plans. Remember, we don’t get paid while on strike. But the members have had enough. For most of us this is not just a job. It’s our livelihood they are trying to take it away. Please understand its not personal. But we won’t be bullied and lied to anymore.

    10: please don’t use the excuse “at least you have a job”. This is a fight that is bigger than just a fight against Air Canada and its employees for justice and a fair deal. It is also a fight against corporate greed, and it is a fight that we all share in this country. The gap between the rich and the poor have been increasing for decades, soon if we don’t act collectively, this country and our standard of living will be no better than China. We have to protect the middle class so we can have a strong and vibrant economy, Canadian workers across this country deserve respect, and IT starts in 2012.”
    Like · · 5 minutes ago ·

    • Yes, if we don’t unquestioningly support the union 100%, we’re on the side of Evil.

  15. Yeah, Fatcats at Air Canada gave themselves big bonuses after the financial restructuring.  –which was only facilitated by the pilots and flight attendants taking huge paycuts to keep their jobs.
    Also, Harper sees the loss of Air Canada detrimental to the Canadian economy, but has no problem taxing the s**t out of gas, which is seemingly priced unrelated to the cost of a barrel of oil. Don’t worry about how we get across the country, how about getting us to work??

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