March 27 brought a rare moment in Question Period, the usually combative 30-minute battles where the opposition throws pointed questions and the government replies with partisan non-answers. The basis of unity was the cause of more than 350 former employees of Air Canada’s primary aircraft overhaul supplier Aveos Fleet Performance, who had learned their company was declaring insolvency one week earlier.
Earlier in the day, a delegation of 70 of the dismissed workers, led by IAMAW Local Lodge 764 President Christopher Hiscock and members of his Executive, along with B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair, had presented their case to Dix and Bell. Both Dix and Bell committed to a non-partisan approach on the issue – agreeing that politics were secondary to protecting more than 350 family-supporting jobs.
Dix set the tone by alerting Bell and the BC Liberal government in advance of question period that the issue would be up first. Bell followed the lead of Dix by introducing the women and men he had met with just minutes earlier to the House, reading out their names and years of experience working on Air Canada’s fleet. He then invited a collegial approach to tackling the issue.
Dix took up the offer. “I think the matter is too important for partisanship, so I wanted to suggest to the Premier or the minister responsible for jobs that we get together as a House and pass a joint resolution in support of those workers, calling on the Prime Minister to intervene — consistent with federal law and consistent with the importance of these jobs to British Columbia — to protect these jobs. So will the Premier or the minister join with me today in proposing a joint resolution?” Dix asked.
Bell responded with an answer that only partially satisfied the onlooking Machinists and the Opposition across the House. While he recognized the importance of a solution, he failed to commit to a joint resolution. Dix followed by reminding the Minister that the provinces of Quebec and Manitoba had already taken similar measures, and committed to fighting for the jobs of former Aveos employees in their provinces. Dix suggested that a resolution would advance the cause.
This time, Bell agreed that his government would consider a resolution and would consider participating in a delegation to Ottawa to meet with federal leaders on the issue, following a conversation with the federal Minister responsible.
For the former employees of IAMAW, the news of cooperation was encouraging; however, they recognize that there is still much work to do. As the members boarded the bus to return to Vancouver, Hiscock committed to his members that the union would do all it could to ensure Air Canada upholds the terms of the Air Canada Public Participation Act and re-opens its heavy maintenance facilities in Vancouver and across Canada.
FACTS ABOUT AVEOS AND AIR CANADA
- Air Canada has operated heavy maintenance divisions in Canada since its formation as an airline. Primary maintenance facilities for Air Canada until last year were divisions of Air Canada in Montreal, Mississauga, Winnipeg and Vancouver.
- The Air Canada Public Participation Act requires the airline to maintain heavy maintenance operations in Canada, and specifically in Montreal, Mississauga and Winnipeg. It is the union’s position that YVR is also covered by the Act, despite not being specified.
- The YVR operation was subsequently acquired by Air Canada in the merger with Canadian Airlines.
- The workers at YVR have more than 3,000 years of experience between them and are recognized as one of the premier maintenance teams in the world.
- Heavy maintenance operations were contracted out to Aveos Fleet Performance in July 2011.
- Employees were assured of the viability of Aveos and Air Canada’s long term commitment to conducting maintenance at the existing facilities. On the basis of those assurances, senior workers took positions with Aveos instead of transferring to other positions within the Air Canada system.
- Approximately 8 months after the ink had dried on the transfer of operations from Air Canada to Aveos, Aveos filed for protection from creditors and immediately dismissed all employees.
- Heavy maintenance is highly-skilled, highly-specialized work that is not easily transferable. Many former Aveos employees have between 25 and 35 years of experience.