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.

Originally posted on RankandFile.ca, 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.

Readers might also be interested in the following RankandFile.ca articles about Air Canada:

An era of wildcats and civil disobedience in Canada?
The Air Canada Wildcat Strike
Occupy YYZ: Pearson parking lot workers fight back
Airport workers say no to contracting out

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 editors@rankandfile.ca.

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2 thoughts on “A Glamorous Job at Air Canada?

  1. 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. 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 that 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 least able to 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.”
    Eventually I was forced out when this abuse culminated into a death threat more than five years ago.
    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.
    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 had been 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.

  2. What was once the Meredith Principals, which the Workers Compensation Boards of Canada were based on – Have now become a Chapter of “Animal Farm” for the Workers’ Con Boards of Canada.

    Here’s One Chapter:

    Here’s another:

    There are Many Permanently Disabled and Injured Workers and Veterans whom are looking for Justice:

    Here’s a few Groups on Facebook:

    Workers Con Boards of Canada, are Meant to Serve the Employer, Government and Lawyers- Not the Permanently Injured and Disabled Workers and Veterans!

    WCB Employees are Given BONUSES for Keeping Claims Down
    Employers are given REBATES to KEEP CLAIMS DOWN
    Government Keeps Collecting TAXES because the System is Forcing Injured Workers back to Work.
    Lawyers are Profiting from Injured Workers fighting for Benefits and Medical Care- for which they are entitled to – Yet DENIED- by a BIAS SYSTEM Controlled by Employers, and Government Legislation.

    Injured Workers Rights to Sue an Employer, was forfeited by the Government,
    yet the Government has Created Bill C-45 which allows Government to Sue the Employers for their Financial Gain.

    Democracy exits, only if you are Deaf, Dumb and Blind- and PROPAGANDA is Just a Politician away!

    Here’s a Petition which you do not have to Be an Injured or Disabled Worker to Sign,
    Please show your Support to those whom have been Pernamently Injured or Disabled through their Employment>

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