One rival's staff sees hope, the other’s gets the jitters
At an Air Canada kiosk at Pearson International airport in Toronto, Randy Moore is trying very hard not to think about what could happen to his job if Onex Corp. buys his employer and Canadian Airlines International Ltd.— and then eliminates 5,000 jobs. “I am afraid that I could be among the ones to go,” the 41-year-old customer sales and service agent says bleakly. “The last time that there was talk of a merger, there were rumours that you had to have at least 17 years under your belt to hold on to your job. I have almost 14 years.” Half a continent away in Calgary, Heather Sutherland is relieved that a solution to her company’s woes might be finally in sight. “We have been struggling, giving up a percentage of our salaries to keep the company going,” muses the customer service agent. “This could be the pot at the end of the rainbow.”
Such starkly different visions of the future now divide the 39,000 employees of Canadian and Air Canada into deeply troubled, almost hostile, camps. Many Canadian employees like Sutherland cherish the guarded hope that a merger may be the only way to save most of that airline’s 16,000 jobs. In contrast, many Air Canada staff, who have worked hard to boost their employer’s fortunes, view the prospect of a merger as frightening and vexing. Because that airline is in better financial shape than Canadian, there are more new employees. And they would likely be the first to lose their jobs—because layoffs are usually done on the basis of seniority. “The youngest workers are in our group,” says Tom Freeman, president of the Canadian Auto Workers local that represents 5,000 Air Canada sales and ser-
vice staff. “Even if they keep their jobs, they may have to relocate. There are so many nightmares. It’s awful.”
For the unions representing workers in both airlines, it is an agonizing dilemma. “The Air Canada employees are saying, ‘Why me—when my carrier is profitable?’ ” says Denise Hill, president of the division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 7,100 flight
attendants. “But Canadian employees recognize this could be their last lifeline. It has been a hard few days for us, walking that fine line.”
The search for less painful solutions is intense. CAW president Buzz Hargrove has called on Ottawa to take an equity position in Canadian or any successor airline to influence decisions. Laurie Ferguson Marsh, western regional chairwoman of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents 15,000 mechanics and ground workers, says unions should concentrate on how to improve the health of the industry—not of the individual carriers. Fuel costs and airport fees could be lowered. “We will be seeking solutions other than job losses,” she says. “We can’t pit one group against another.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.