Flight attendant union wants more guidance from minister

Issue revolves around fears airlines are prioritizing business over health and safety of staff

Flight attendant union wants more guidance from minister

A union representing 14,000 flight attendants in Canada has penned a letter to Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, asking him to "give better directions" to airline companies that are prioritising their business over the health and safety of their staff. Wesley Lesosky, president of Air Canada Component of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), raised to Alghabra the "heightened concerns" of flight attendants for Air Canada Mainline and Air Canada Rouge amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

According to Lesosky, the Omicron variant is an "extremely contagious" strain that puts people at risk the longer they remove their masks to eat or drink - which happens as part of the amenities offered onboard an aircraft. However, while municipalities and provinces have taken measures to slow down the spread of Omicron, some airlines have failed to enact "appropriate measures," said Lesosky.

"Unfortunately for our members, Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge have not taken appropriate measures and continue to insist that customers be provided with onboard amenities akin to what was provided previously and the rationale for this is so that they can 'compete,'" said the union official.

Lesosky then reminded the department that it is their obligation to ensure that employers are compliant to the health and safety obligations stipulated under the Part II of the Canada Labour Code.

"We implore you to give better direction to employers who are putting the commercial enterprise ahead of the health and well-being of our members," he told Alghabra, adding that it is time to limit available on board service to keep flight attendants safe. "Now is not the time to concern ourselves with whether or not someone got the cheese service onboard, it is the time to limit onboard service to the most practical and safe process available.”

Read more: Air Canada reaches landmark agreement with union

Sunwing incident

Lesosky in the letter also pointed out the Sunwing incident, where maskless passengers of Sunwing Airlines on route to Cancun, Mexico, were caught on video partying while onboard the aircraft. Rena Kisfalvi, CUPE local president, previously said the incident put the cabin crew at enormous risk.

"We need airlines and the federal government to support and protect our members against this kind of mob behaviour and make sure it never happens again," the official said in a statement. 

Lesosky in his letter to Alghabra said the incident "highlighted the issues of non-compliance and a complete disregard for Flight Attendants." He closed his message asking the minister to consult and work with them on the issue.

"We ask that you consult and investigate this matter so that we can all rest easy in the knowledge that we did all that we could to protect our vulnerable members of society and to stand proud of our decisions.  History will be kind to some who chose to act responsibly, and we want to be on the right side of that divide," Lesosky said.

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