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?
Originally posted on RankandFile.ca, April 29, 2014
Once 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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Editor’s note: If you’re an Air Canada worker and want to share your thoughts about bargaining and developments at the company, consider writing a feature story for RankandFile.ca. Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.