The rights we take for granted today were achieved through years of collective struggle for a better tomorrow. This was not easy; workers made incredible sacrifices, so that we benefit from their activism. What follows here is not an exhaustive history of our Local, but simply a highlight of some of the labour gains and the pains that we have endured through the years.
One of the most unpleasant chapters in our nation’s history was the government’s repression over the right for workers to unionize. For generations just mentioning the word union or strike could result in termination, being blacklisted, deported, imprisoned or even violently attacked.
Persecution continued until 1944, when the government – facing growing criticism from its allies as well as the high cost of repressing union activists – passed the Wartime Labour Relations (WLR) Act which recognized the legal status of unions and workers’ rights to collectively bargain. This unleashed a wave of pent-up demand for workers in all industries – including the airline industry – to organize into the unions of their choice.
In 1946, ninety-six out of ninety-eight eligible passenger agents (forty-one of whom were female) at Trans Canada Airlines (TCA later named Air Canada) signed union cards to organize as the Canadian Airline Passenger Agent Association (CALPAA). In spite of management’s strong protests, the WLR Board granted certification. CALPAA bargained their first contract with TCA on November 8, 1946, paving the way for all of our Local’s members today.
Unfortunately this first agreement entrenched TCA management’s practise of paying its female workers twenty per cent less than their male counterparts for completing the same work.
THE FIGHT FOR EQUALITY
Gender Pay Parity
With the struggle for certification complete, the first fight newly unionized workers challenged was management’s continued insistence of paying female workers less than their male counterparts. This practice was removed in the 1947 collective agreement.
Although this was an historic achievement, true workplace equality did not exist between female and male members in the decades that followed due to issues such as the unequal pay between classifications (e.g. reservations agents versus male dominated airport agents) and the inability of workers in lower paid classifications to transfer to the higher paid ones.
Predecessor unions waged constant struggles against this form of institutional discrimination. As a result, many of our collective agreements today have one classification as well as the ability to move between functions without penalty. Unfortunately classification and function divisions still exist; this is still a work-in-progress.
Once a female airline worker got married, she was reduced to casual status and forced to apply to renew her employment status every three months. The 1958 collective agreement ended this discriminatory practice.
Decades later two of our predecessor Locals – 1990 and 2213 – united to support a Supreme Court challenge by a member for the right to same sex spousal benefits. Although the case was initially considered a short term legal defeat, it achieved its ultimate aim by forcing an end to many discriminatory benefits and practices in our industry on the basis of marital status. It is recognized as one of the founding cases that paved the way for the legalization of same sex marriage.
The “nominated partner” benefits many single workers enjoy today (irrespective of sexual orientation) are a direct result of our Local’s activism for members in a same sex relationship.
Employment Status: full time and part time
Equality of treatment and pay for all workers, irrespective of status, has been another long struggle. In the 1980’s, strikes by our members at Air Canada and Pacific Western Airlines led to ground breaking agreements enshrining equal rights for part time workers. Unfortunately today, third-party contracting within our industry has created a resurgence in inequality for workers.
In the past, airline workers who became pregnant were terminated by their employers. In 1965, progress was finally made by our union granting these workers the ability to request a ‘leave of absence.’ Their return to work was still contingent upon an available vacancy, forcing these workers to essentially re-apply for their jobs without any previous rights. By today’s standards this could hardly be considered a win, but it signaled progress on this issue within our movement.
Airline management refused to make any more concessions whatsoever. This odious treatment of pregnant workers and new mothers continued until 1981 when a strike by the postal workers (represented by CUPW) forced the Canadian government to finally enact maternity leave language for all Canadians. Our predecessor unions were early and vocal supporters of this historic strike. The postal workers faced incredible persecution during their forty-two day strike with several arrests and rabid opposition from the right wing and their anti-union media, but their sacrifice is one of many examples of the hard won gains accomplished by labour solidarity that we take for granted today.
Local 2002 has been at the centre of some very important struggles throughout its history, pushing for a more tolerant and equal society. Our Local demonstrated leadership on this issue in 2001, by appointing the first human rights coordinator.
In spite of the government’s initial opposition to our collective rights as workers, much of our early history saw the government play a mostly positive role in the formation of our industry. Policies such as the ownership of TCA / Air Canada and the regulation of a Canadian based industry ensured a stable environment which fostered the development of a multitude of airlines that thrived in a variety of different networks.
Our Local was at the front of this wave of growth; virtually every airline in Canada had at least one bargaining unit represented by our Local. The Local’s earliest and largest units: Canadian Pacific Air Lines and TCA/Air Canada made industry wide gains and expanded to every corner of the country.
This was not always easy, nor was the government always accepting of our rights as evidenced by the imposition of Wage and Price Controls in the mid-1970’s which unilaterally rolled back negotiated gains. The government also refused to actively enforce first agreement rights for newly certified airlines like Norcanair. However, due to our industry wide representation, we were largely successful in bargaining respectable contracts and working conditions for our members.
Overnight, what was once a stable industry with good jobs turned into a free-for-all when the pro-corporate Mulroney government in 1984 not only privatized Air Canada, but forcibly de-regulated the Canadian airline industry in 1987.
Every airline that existed at the time of de-regulation has ceased operations, merged into another entity or restructured through bankruptcy. This one hundred percent failure rate is unprecedented within any industry in Canada.
With the signing of “Open Skies” agreements, the attacks against airline workers by governments continued. The corporation-ism of Canadian airports caused former department of transport airport workers to lose many benefits including defined benefit pensions for future workers. Wall Street bankers and senior Air Canada Executives pocketed over $4.5 billion from creating independent companies of Jazz, Aeroplan and AVEOS.
This anti-worker agenda turned from being policy driven into open hostility. In 2011 the Harper government drafted a special bill against the union’s right to strike. Before the bill was passed and criminal charges were laid against our union, the CAW was forced to reach an agreement, ending a three day strike.
Prior to deregulation an uneasy balance existed with conflicts often limiting the pace of progress for our members.
De-regulation, the privatization of Air Canada and the corporatization of our airports have permanently destroyed this balance forcing our members to deal with: never ending crises, restructurings, mergers, contracting out of our work, and the outright liquidation of some airlines such as Canada 3000 in 2001.
It is difficult to make progress when a day does not go by without a crisis in at least one of our units.
Twenty-five years of de-regulation has seen the rapid rise of contract ground handlers. These members face extreme challenges and our ability to make gains for them will be the defining battle of our times. Our Local faces the challenges by aggressively organizing new units to maintain union density.
Shortly after forming the Canadian Airline Passenger Agent Association (CALPAA) it became very clear that a more formal organization was needed to be an effective union.
Two approaches were tried: the mostly TCA/Air Canada workers continued building an independent union leading to the eventual formation of CALEA and the mostly CP Air workers joined the American based Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks (BRAC).
Both groups achieved great gains but the challenges of the 80’s exposed limitations and forced them to increasingly unite due to a rapidly changing industry.
Strikes at both Air Canada and Pacific Western Airlines created great financial strain for CALEA. As employers became more aggressive it became clear that a larger union was needed to have the resources needed to fight their agenda. On August 19, 1985 CALEA formally merged into the UAW / CAW as Local 2213.
The changes wrought from de-regulation played havoc on representational rights and it was not long before BRAC and CAW 2213 were embroiled in a series of representational votes. These continued until the spring of 1990 when the workers from BRAC formally joined the CAW as Local 1990.
This duality remained in place until the merger of Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International (CAIL) which once again forced representational issues leading to the merger of CAW Locals 1990, 2213 and 4236 (representing Air Nova Maintenance workers in Halifax, Nova Scotia) into CAW Local 2002 in 2002.
AWESOME POWER OF AIRCRAFT
The 10,000 members of Local 2002 and all of the retirees are drawn together by the awesome power of aircraft. We fix them; tow them; fuel them; load baggage, cargo and passengers and critically injured people; sell airline tickets and reward programs; prepare the food; schedule crew; and take care of all the complexities of operating an airport: clean runways, ensure security, maintain the baggage belts, assist passengers with parking and even ensure they have a bed to sleep in at their destination. We are all linked by that common thread.
We work in one of the most difficult, unstable and economically challenging industries that exist. None of our members, regardless of which company they work for have been immune from the attacks of our employers, economy or the government that should be there to protect our rights, not strip them away. As members of Unifor, we are much stronger together. We will continue to draw upon that strength to meet the challenges ahead.
THE ROAD AHEAD
History never stays still and the battles fought today will determine our collective future.
Although we work in an industry constantly in crisis, we have always been on the right side of history when it comes to fighting to better the lives of workers and their communities.
Collectively we have made history, particularly in the advancement of human rights. Our challenge as a local is to continue to build on the great legacy built by those who toiled before; the workers of the future deserve no less.
Unifor was officially formed on August 31, 2013, at a Founding Convention in Toronto, Ontario. It marked the coming together of the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) – two of Canada’s largest and most influential labour unions.
The birth of Unifor represented a sign of hope for the Canadian labour movement, and working people more generally.