A Glamorous Job at Air Canada?

Thankless toiling at Canada’s flagship airline

Writing on condition of anonymity, a veteran Air Canada employee talks about work at Canada’s flagship airline and puts into context the “bag toss” incident witnessed by a passenger at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport last week. The two Air Canada employees, who were recorded dropping luggage into bins several metres below, have since been suspended for their actions. Is this just a matter of careless workers, as it’s being cast in the media, or a symptom of cost cutting and just-in-time management at Air Canada?

By A.C.

April 29, 2014

vintage-1960-air-canada-poster1Once upon a time working for an airline was a respected, well paying job. There was also a time when an employee working for a prestigious company, like Air Canada, was proud to wear the uniform that showed a very recognizable logo. Times have changed. Now, Canada’s global airline is known for having very little respect for its employees, and even for failing to honour the terms of a collective agreement. An agreement, I should add, that was ratified under the threat of back-to-work legislation by the Conservative government.

It has been said that we, as Air Canada employees, are overpaid for what we do and that the business model must change. That has been the airline’s way of saying they don’t want to give you a pay increase. The top executives, meanwhile, reap the rewards at the expense of their employees who have made concessions and sacrifices throughout out the years. The reality now is overworked and under paid.

Let’s look at the infamous “bag toss” incident at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and why it happened. I am sure the media has created a distorted view, or impression of the video and the workers involved. Air Canada has many managers, and they furiously pace around their ground staff ensuring on-time departures. Gate agents and ramp staff are run ragged trying to get a full flight out on time. Checked baggage policies add to this nightmare of oversized cabin baggage being brought on airplanes by passengers who feel they have paid enough for the little service they do get. It is not uncommon to gate check 10-30 pieces of luggage depending on the route and aircraft type, sometimes even more.

The stress of it all is overwhelming because a delayed flight can result in disciplinary action. The two station attendants featured in the video are the sacrificial lambs. Who is to say that this was not done before, or possibly ordered by a manager to ensure an on-time departure? Defying a manager’s order is insubordination, and could result in suspension and termination of employment.

The stress of it all is overwhelming because a delayed flight can result in disciplinary action. The two station attendants featured in the video are the sacrificial lambs.

Our managers are hired with minimal skills or experience, and some do not even know the difference between aircraft types in our fleet, let alone the destinations to which we fly. In house promotions earned through experience are gone. The “yes puppets” are brought in to ensure that our planes go out on time, with the least amount of manpower possible. Management also enjoys the power of discipline: “you will do as I say and grieve it later”. This leads one to question why there is even a collective agreement to begin with, as there is no acknowledgement of its existence by Air Canada.

Working conditions have deteriorated and gone are the days of good work scheduling, decent pay, and sick leave. Many of Air Canada’s employees toil in working environments where they are routinely exposed to communicable diseases from all over the world. For this hazard, we are only provided with 48 hours of sick leave and are often forced to expose the public to these illnesses when we return to work. At best management and unionized employees engage in a very strained work relationship, but we work to disguise this conflict and act civil in front of the flying public.

The glamorous airline career is a thing of the past, and some of this is due to the changing nature of the industry and the competitive world in which Air Canada operates. That being said, one important component that should not have changed is the respect we, as workers, receive from the employer. The “bag toss” is a reflection of how we are treated.

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11 thoughts on “A Glamorous Job at Air Canada?

  1. AC is all about damage control and bandaging symptoms – never about fixing the problem. The bag toss incident was done in plain sight – in a very organized manner, even with some forethought into putting some padding in the bin to protect the bag. This is a management bandage. The guys in the ramp actually follow standard operating procedures. And this is one of them. All in the name of on time performance so said management team can hit their bonuses. The poor ramp guys are 100% the scapegoats. The average passenger has no idea what goes one behind the scenes to get a fully loaded plane out of the gate…and sadly, most of the managers don’t either.

  2. I feel for the two baggage handlers who are essentially the escape goats. What passengers fail to understand is that there is a policy size for carry on baggage. Every passengers feels that they are entitled to bring on an oversized baggage because of the type of airplanes that they are on. How may passengers have I heard say say to the poor flight attendants, “I fly all the time and I never had a problems with the size of my suitcase, the bins on this airplane is too small”, when clearly that suitcase should have been a checked bag.

    Air travel is not the luxury that is was back in the days. Airfares have come down in price so significantly that anyone and everyone can fly. People who pay for the cheapest fare want the world from the crews working inside and outside of the aircraft. Humanity and respect are not words used for people who work in the industry anymore. It’s a profit numbers game with the upper management.

    I see many menticulous hardworking employees for the airlines who do it all with a smile even when passengers are being rude, demanding and downright demeaning towards them. Those employees who are far from the above are probably employees who are driven to that state from both ends, pressured and unappreciated by management and by passengers. Please don’t say that if one doesn’t like their job, then quit. We all know in whatever field we are working, it’s not that easy to do.

  3. As a retired Employee, dating back to 1966, I am saddened to see “my Air Canada Family” in turmoil over this matter. Whatever happened to communicating, understanding (or at least trying) and working on a solution together ? I may be old but I still can remember a congenial atmosphere amongst all employees regardless of rank, and many other discriminatory factors that seem to come into play in today’s workforce. Remember this, A HAPPY FAMILY IS A PROSPEROUS FAMILY. Now let’s not forget our roots and get back to the “old” Air Canada.

  4. The COO in charge of enforcing OTP is Kaus Goersch. His 6Sigma application to the daily operation involves continuos improvements to shave just in time, all the time, to departures and arrivals. His disdain for delays is said to be obsessive and maniacal. He sent out a letter to employees by e-mail on Friday, 25th April, after the bag toss incident and the offending scape goats were made an example of and fired. It has upset many and some have fired back their disgust. Others say they risk being fired and nothing will change because only OTP matters.

  5. Of course there is no mention of the company being aided and abetted by the IAM in all of this. Remember, the “do it and grieve it” comes not from the company, but from the union shop stewards on the floor right on up to the executive.

    How can the workers be expected to stand up for themselves when the union isn’t looking out for their best interests, but only for themselves instead?

  6. Air Canada’s employee relations are terrible…so terrible that after 31 years (5 of them with AC) I left. They treat their employees like inconvenient, ignorant slaves…and no praise for a good job ever!..On their evaluation sheets nobody is allowed excellent for anything. A former colleague asked why she couldn’t get an excellent on attendance and late time…(She had never been late or sick in 40 years)..The answer “at AC nobody gets perfect marks”…maybe Air Canada could save money from printing excellent on the forms.

  7. It never ceases to amaze me that managements regard themselves as superior to their workers and yet forever blame their workers when something goes sideways.When that happens in pro sports they fire the coach.
    Airlines have the same pool of prospective employees to draw from. They all want to belong to a meaningful occupation that allows them pride in performance along with financial security. When this does not happen it’s not the fault of the workforce but rather of the management team. But try telling that to the management team.And try telling that to the folks at the top of that team whose main goal in life is their own substantial financial reward.
    For what ?!

  8. Forced out by a broken system….Posted on July 23, 2015 in Rank & File
    All Canadians should be concerned with the WSIB/WCB problems faced by workers who are injured on the job for a couple of reasons;
    What happened to me could happen to any worker; the Ministries of Labour have done nothing to resolve these issues in this workplace despite being informed and having the powers to do so. In fact the federal government forced through legislation, Bill C-4 that gives the Minister of Labour the authority to throw out unsafe work refusal complaints without investigation, leaving employees who refuse unsafe work open to discipline or even dismissal.
    • WSIB have also done nothing to resolve these issues in this workplace despite being informed and having the powers to do so. Instead they reduced my benefits through deeming despite overwhelming medical evidence from all of my doctors and even their own specialists. WSIB’s adjudicators continue to ignore all medical reports forcing workers like me into poverty as they are unable to work and are forced to fight for their benefits through years of appeals. While politicians and the Ministry of Labour allows this abuse of injured workers by claiming the WSIB is an arm’s length agency but the WSIB must be accountable to someone whether it’s the Ministry of Labour or the Canadian public. Breach of Contract with Canadian workers who are now forced to work without a safety net if they are injured at work. Deeming and ignoring the “thin skull rule” when assessing benefits has already been fought all the way to the Supreme Court and both have found to be a violation of the historic agreement made with Canadian workers when WCB/WSIB was created. Yet my benefits have been reduced through deeming and by ignoring medical reports stating I am unable to work.
    • Poverty stricken injured workers are forced to turn to government programs to survive. This makes a dramatic shift in who is responsible pay for their needs from the WSIB that is an employer paid program to the already strained government programs such health and welfare that are programs paid for by all Canadian taxpayers. Therefore the cost burden for these injured workers is forced onto all Canadian taxpayers who can least afford to pay rather than paid for by these wealthy corporations through adequate premiums. Breach of Contract with Canadian workers and the Canadian taxpayers that had been agreed to when WCB/WSIB was originally created and workers gave up the right to sue their employer.
    “Law of Employers’ Liability & WSIB
    Workers’ Compensation Principles:
    • Payment Security
    • No fault system
    • Collective liability
    • Administration by an independent agency
    This is my endless battle for workplace safety
    “It has been a long four years and even though we now have a lawyer, not much has happened, which is very
    frustrating,” reads a recent email from a former co-worker.

    Almost a decade later, specific workers are still being harassed in my seriously toxic former workplace. What happened to me continues today for other workers. What happened to me should never have been allowed to happen to anyone in our society.
    As a woman and a permanently disabled worker, I was both regularly threatened with physical violence and psychologically harassed daily in my workplace.
    The company labeled me a CL2 (2nd Class worker). I was demeaned daily by managers and co-workers alike as a disabled worker working modified work. This workplace abuse has been going on for decades now and continues to get worse, according to emails from my former co-workers.
    In an attempt to end this workplace abuse, I contacted numerous company managers, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), the Ministries of Labour (federal & provincial), my union, my safety committee, my company’s and my union’s human rights committee, my company’s security team, two police departments and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
    Eventually, the WSIB finally accepted my claim for benefits due to my traumatic mental stress. After I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression by various doctors, confirmed by the WSIB’s own investigation, and I was off work for close to six months.
    Most harassment cases rely on witness statements, but these are unreliable since most workers don’t want to get involved, or they choose to blame the victim for the harassment in order to feel safer themselves. Since I had evidence, the WSIB was able to obtain witness statements from both my managers and my co-workers.
    How the WSIB failed us
    Yet, despite its obligation to do so, the WSIB did not intervene to provide me with a safe and healthy workplace.

    Worker’s Compensation in Ontario was consolidated into the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Therefore, as a permanently injured worker working modified work that was being singled out with serious harassment, it was appropriate for the WSIB to investigate and resolve these issues.
    I received no response from the WSIB. So much for “workers’ safety.”
    When I filed a WSIB claim, my employer’s response was to try to fire me. My employer continued to threaten to terminate my employment while I received long-term disability benefits.
    Eventually I was forced out when this abuse culminated into a death threat more than five years ago.
    The company was eventually allowed by the WSIB to terminate my employment after my specialists had determined I was medically unable to make a return to work there.
    How arbitration failed us
    I don’t blame my former union since, despite their best efforts, they are working within a broken arbitration system that leaves them powerless against a company who willfully withholds and falsifies evidence.
    Governments need to support our union’s efforts to protect all workers instead of catering to the one percent. In the past, our government has interfered in labor disputes with this company, undermining this union’s ability to protect workers’ rights.
    Unions need more power to intervene to protect workers’ rights, including workers’ human rights. This means having the power to enter workplaces to investigate and gather evidence, and the opportunity to review and scrutinize all evidence presented at arbitration.
    Withholding incriminating evidence from the arbitration process shouldn’t be allowed, but this happens. The arbitrator needs a means to enforce compliance to his/her rulings.
    My union struggled to gain access to information, evidence, and the workplace to gather evidence on my behalf. Even when our union won at arbitration -and over many years, there have been many victories – this company simply ignored these rulings. The discrimination and harassment issues continue unabated.
    Eventually, a group of workers who were also disabled and/or women formed after my departure and my complaint was added to their arbitration battle when I was forced to leave so abruptly.
    These complaints were repeatedly investigated by an independent investigator hired by the company in an effort to disprove our complaints. But these reports came back in support of the workers while one report was strongly in support of workers’ harassment complaints and stated that the workplace was seriously toxic.
    After I helplessly watched as workers were seriously harassed, bullied and then fired, I collected evidence of this toxic workplace situation in the form of emails, documents, pictures and voice recordings, documenting written and verbal harassment. I felt helpless in an unsafe and toxic workplace. I knew of others who were already off work who had already been seriously assaulted.
    The random attacks of physical violence that occurred over most of my ten year career were harder to prove since there were few witnesses, but I remain haunted by night terrors as a result of these events.
    Another friend confided, “the union had been successful in arbitrating my friend’s sexual assault case only to return to work assigned to work next to the manager responsible. Naturally my friend freaked, and the company’s response was consistent, and was to try to fire the victim.”

    How government legislation failed us
    I had communicated with the CHRC on numerous occasions. I filed a CHRC complaint while my union fought this company through arbitration while I was on leave.
    The CHRC couldn’t step in to assist me initially since I was a unionized employee. The CHRC made an unusual decision in my case to accept my complaint, but had to suspend acting on it since I was unionized. Government legislation prevents the CHRC from helping if a unionized company objects to their participation. My union welcomed the CHRC to work with them but the company prevented this.
    My former union was being seriously undermined since this company withheld and presented doctored evidence during both the arbitration process and the CHRC process. The company continued to undermine my former union’s efforts to resolve these issues through arbitration by withholding evidence that proved our human rights complaints.
    The company’s objections to the CHRC handling my complaints of discrimination and harassment do to my gender, disability and family status remained unresolved, and only recently, the CHRC advised the company they would be stepping in to resolve these issues despite their objections.
    The CHRC forced this company to provide some previously withheld evidence that was more than two years old. The company continued to deny the existence of the most damaging independent report that had been filed by the company’s independent investigator, a report that strongly supported workers’ complaints.
    Instead the company provided a clearly questionable “clarified” report that was intended to disprove my discrimination and harassment complaints with the CHRC.
    This same clarified report had previously been used as evidence by this company at my arbitration, but had been withheld from both me and my union for years.
    I challenged the false evidence that was inserted into this clarified report – evidence I had supposedly provided the independent investigator. The CHRC also challenged the merit of this clarified report, which contained only witness statements from managers who clearly didn’t know me or the work I was doing.
    While the CHRC continued to rule in my favour, they ultimately held no power to protect me while I was employed as a unionized employee.
    Failed by a broken system
    I was failed by all who were supposed to ensure my workplace was safe and healthy, including the WSIB, which accepted the company’s empty assurances that it had resolved the problems identified during the WSIB’s own investigation.
    While my union was being undermined by a company that consistently withheld and doctored evidence during arbitrations, government agencies such as the WSIB could have forced this company to resolve these issues through penalties and fines. But it didn’t.
    The Ministry of Labour and the WSIB were informed years ago of these workplace issues, but chose to do nothing meaningful to intervene, despite bill 168 , legislation designed to protect workers from workplace harassment.
    The company made no attempts to identify the misogynists behind these threats that ended my career there. Current government legislation has prevented the CHRC from fully assisting me and hasn’t made my workplace safer, and neither has generic safety ads by the Ministry of Labor and the WSIB telling workers to “work safe.”
    Although I have won some battles, such as proving my original WSIB claim and my CHRC case, I feel I am losing this war since what happened to me and others continues today more than a decade later. The WSIB has added insult to injury by not going after this employer and forcing them to resolve these issues and instead have attacked my WSIB benefits to below poverty levels by deeming non-existent earnings. This has been going on for more than a year and this is despite overwhelming medical evidence that clearly states that I am unable to work due to ongoing PTSD, anxiety and depression symptoms. Symptoms that was caused by these harassment issues that occurred as result of my permanent workplace injury working modified work that WSIB’s own investigator determined true.
    Originally, I had filed a CHRC complaint with hopes of fixing these workplace issues, but I continued as a means of getting some justice and restitution once my lifestyle and health had been destroyed by these events. I want these issues resolved for those who remain so nobody else has to through what I have been going through.
    What happened to me and others before me should never have been allowed to happen to anyone. I was luckier than most since I was supported by my co-workers. Many government agencies have insisted it’s a union’s responsibility to fix the issues in my former workplace. If so, give unions the means to fight effectively against corrupt companies. WSIB and the Ministry of Labour should be penalizing corporations who ignore worker’s rights and safety instead of re-victimizing injured workers by denying and delaying their much needed benefits.

    This is how Air Canada treats their employees today. Gone are the days of Air Canada family, all workers are constantly threatened and the government has weakened our unions and weakened Labour legislation, ABC(Anybody But the Cons)

    1. on csst due to corporate bullying since 2011…still fighting but without pay and support from ac after 28years of service. totally understand you and discusted …I’m living it painfully…good luck

  9. Yes its changed a lot, i was let go, because someone reported me saying I didn’t care about the job. Apparently management “has investigated” the incident and come the conclusion my demeanor was real concerning and I failed to pass probation. Yet I’ve been bullied by someone who didnt like me and just wanted me to fail and that useless management just decided it was best to fire me instead of helping me. Now going to arbitration and hope justice will prevail!

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