´╗┐February 2012

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Nav Canada Employees Ratify Two-Year Agreement

More than 600 Nav Canada electronic technologists started 2012 with an overdue boost to their paychecks.

Ottawa, Ontario, Local 2228 announced a new two-year agreement with the company — which maintains Canada's air navigation system — in December after only 12 days of negotiations. The contract provides yearly wage increases of 3 percent over the life of the agreement and improved benefits to leave and travel allowance.

The highly-skilled Nav Canada technologists install and maintain electronic equipment that air traffic controllers operate.

Last year's largely friction-free negotiation process stands in stark contrast to the tumultuous workplace disputes between the company and the IBEW 10 years ago that all but paralyzed the collective bargaining process.

In 1996, Canada's air navigation system was privatized, with Nav Canada taking over its operations, thrusting both workers and company management into uncharted territory as far as labour relations were concerned.

"We went from being under the purview of public-sector labour law into a whole new world where we had to write our own rules," says Elizabeth Cameron, assistant vice president for labour and employee relations at Nav Canada.

In August 2000, Local 2228's contract — which covers air navigation technologists throughout Canada — expired. Employees went more than four years without a new agreement because of management's adversarial approach to collective bargaining.

"They were really tough times," says Local 2228 Business Manager Daniel Boulet. "9/11 caused cutbacks to the airline industry, and our members got stuck paying the cost."

But Cameron and Boulet say there was a shift in thinking starting in the mid-2000s.

"Both sides realized that we kept making the same mistakes from the past over and over again, and it was hurting morale and productivity," Cameron says.

The IBEW and management resolved to make an intensive study of alternative approaches to conflict resolution and shift toward a "win-win" bargaining model.

"We started to see a different philosophy emerge," says Boulet. "The old way of doing things — the my-way-or-the-highway approach — might work in the short run, but it was hurting the company and its employees over the long term."

Cameron says the job of labour relations officials and union leaders is to help solve problems in the workplace, not create them — an approach that ended the mistrust between the IBEW and Nav Canada.

Vancouver International Airport is among the airports across Canada where more than 600 Nav Canada employees help maintain Canada's air navigation system.

Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user Hyougushi