About to be on Strike: Flair Airlines

The Canadian Union of Public Employees has filed 72-hour strike notice for Local 4060, representing 139 flight attendants who work for ultra-low-cost carrier Flair Airlines.

Flair Airlines is an airline based in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. It operates scheduled passenger services in Canada, as well as chartered passenger and cargo services in Canada, the United States, the Caribbean region, and to destinations worldwide from its main base at Edmonton International Airport.

The union issued the strike notice following a December 5 mediated session with the employer in which the two sides failed to reach an agreement over outstanding items including wages and pensions as well as time credits/scheduling issues.

“For the past several weeks, this employer has steadfastly refused to step away from its position of two-tier wages and benefits, which is fundamentally unfair,” said CUPE National Representative Gary Yee, who represents CUPE 4060 at the bargaining table.

“Flair is transparently engaging in a divide and conquer strategy aimed at driving a wedge between workers in order to compete with other ultra-low-cost carriers. It is completely unfair to pay one group of flight attendants 30 per cent less for doing the same work as other flight attendants.”

Flair bases in Canada are located in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Kelownaand Abbotsford.

Since being organized November 2017, Local 4060 has been in bargaining with the airline for nearly a year.

The 72-hour-strike notice expires at midnight on December 10, putting the local in a legal strike position.

CUPE 4060’s 139 flight attendants work from bases in Abbotsford, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto. Since the summer of 2018, when Flair shifted its business model from a charter to “ultra low-cost carrier” (ULCC) service, the company has offered regular flights to eight Canadian and six U.S. cities. Since CUPE organized Flair flight attendants in November 2017, Local 4060 has been in bargaining with the airline for nearly a year.

• In setting out its new ULCC business model, Flair initially called for existing members’ starting wage of $33/hour to be rolled back by $10/hour.

This strategy was admittedly part of a company plan to compete with other budget airlines in order to meet its bottom line. Plans for other cost-cutting measures involve Flair’s impending switch to the new 737-800 planes, which will operate at 1:50 ratio—a reduction of the number of flight attendants per passenger.

• Under the original wage structure, existing flight attendants earn much less than the $33.20/ hour they are paid, based on real hours worked. Compensated for 80 hours per month, they are paid only for actual flight time, not preparation (including boarding passengers) or post-flight duties. This work adds up to 166 hours of average duty hours per month. • CUPE had already tabled a reasonable proposal—including two years of wage freezes—but Flair refused to consider it. The company made it sound like we were asking for more, which was never the case. The existing wage structure has been in place since September 1, 2016.

When CUPE 4060 members responded to the company’s attempted wage rollback with a 98-per-cent strike vote, Flair’s next move was to try and set workers against each other by offering a two-tier wage and pension structure—less pay and no pension for future employees doing the same work as current employees. New hires would earn only $23 per hour, which amounts to just over $10 an hour when all non-flight duty hours are counted—less than the minimum wage for B.C., Alberta and Ontario.

• CUPE has made every effort to return to the bargaining table, but Flair has refused to reconsider its two-tier wage proposal, which pays lower wages to new employees. Two-tier is a classic Employer divide-and-conquer strategy aimed at directing everyone toward the same (lower) rate eventually.

• CUPE had made every attempt to resolve this dispute without resorting to job action. However, the company has rejected the union’s proposal to settle the dispute fairly via interest arbitration.