Air Canada strike to end Friday

June 16, 2011 at 9:34 PM
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TORONTO, June 16 (UPI) -- Striking Air Canada customer service workers will be returning to work after a tentative contract settlement was reached Thursday, officials said.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said company officials were happy to have an agreement, which is to send about 3,800 employees back to work Friday despite the need for a ratification vote, the Toronto Star reported.

The ratification votes will take place over the next two weeks, the newspaper said.

Management and non-union staff have been filling in for the striking customer agents and call center workers since the strike began after midnight Monday.

The four-year contract will boost workers' wages by 9 percent over the life of the deal while protecting current employees' defined benefit pensions, a source told the Star. The two sides agreed to mediation-arbitration to resolve the prickly issue of putting new hires on a defined contribution plan.

Other minor changes to the pension benefits will kick in in 2013, the union said.

"For future Air Canada employees, we regret that we were not able to put in the collective agreement a defined benefit pension," Canadian Auto Workers President Ken Lewenza told reporters at a news conference.

"I'm not giving up. But for us to prolong the strike, it would absolutely make no sense at this time.

"Do I feel good passing on a risk to a new generation? I'm not happy about that. "At the end of the day, bargaining is tough and you have to make tough decisions."

CAW spokeswoman Shannon Devine announced the settlement as parliamentary debate was under way in Ottawa to craft back-to-work legislation, The National Post reported.

Hours later, the Conservative government said it would begin work on forcing back-to-work legislation that could include arbitration.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper deflected criticism for taking action on the first day of the strike in Parliament Thursday, The Globe and Mail said.

"This strike will do significant damage to the Canadian economy," Harper said.

Air Canada still faces contract negotiations with its pilots, flight attendants and mechanics.

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