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Union says Cargojet retaliated against pilots for support

Firings coincide with Air Line Pilots Association ousting Unifor as bargaining representative

This year has been tumultuous for unionized pilots at Cargojet. (Photo: Flickr/Colin Cooke CC BY 2.0)

(Updated Sept. 17, 11:15 E.T., with ALPA certification development)

The new union representing pilots at Cargojet on Wednesday filed an unfair labor practice complaint with Canadian authorities alleging that company management violated the law by firing 23 pilots who were in their probationary period while continuing to hire additional cockpit crews.

The terminations came five days after Cargojet (TSX: CJT) pilots voted to join the Air Line Pilots Association, based in Herndon, Virginia, and leave Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union.

ALPA’s complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board asserts that the 23 pilots were let go because they were directly involved in ALPA’s organizing efforts. Many of them were days away from leaving probation and obtaining permanent status. Many had previously been laid off by Air Canada as a result of lost business because of COVID-19 and were told they are not eligible to be rehired with Cargojet.

The union asked the CIRB to order the company to stop violating the law, including any form of discipline for pilots who have demonstrated support for ALPA as the bargaining agent. It also asked that all 23 pilots be reinstated with full compensation. 

On Sept. 17, the CIRB certified ALPA as the labor representative for Cargojet’s more-than 300 pilots.

“Normally, we would start a new relationship with the management team by discussing how we can work together collaboratively to advance our mutual objectives going forward.  However, Cargojet management wasted no time in demonstrating their unwillingness to be a productive partner in the airline’s success and left us no choice but to fiercely defend the rights of ALPA’s newest pilot group,” said ALPA President Joe DePete.

Cargojet could not be reached before publication.

In May, Unifor said ALPA tried to steal members when it intervened in a dispute with Cargojet over the airline’s alleged effort to weaken Canadian hours-of-service rules that went into effect months earlier. The ALPA involvement occurred as Unifor was engaged in bargaining on a new contract. ALPA insinuated that Unifor wasn’t doing enough to prevent unsafe work conditions.

ALPA said at the time that Cargojet was seeking exemptions from the rules and engaging in intimidation to influence pilots to support the request.

Cargojet operates a domestic overnight network for Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), DHL (DXE: DPW) and Purolator, with its airplanes also carrying interline traffic from international airlines. It also offers aircraft leasing and international charter service. It has more than two dozen widebody aircraft in its fleet.

“We are astounded by Cargojet’s decision to lay off pilots just prior to the expiration of the probation provisions, while continuing to hire pilots,” said Rob Giguere, chief of the Air Canada Pilots Association. “The most successful airlines over the long-term – from both the safety and profitability perspective – are those who cultivate a relationship of mutual respect – and not fear – with their professional pilots. We call on Cargojet management to work on that basis with its pilot group.”

The ALPA takeover as the bargaining agent for Cargojet pilots comes weeks after the company’s minority investment in 21 Air LLC, a Greensboro, North Carolina, company that operates five Boeing 767 cargo jets. 21 Air provides charter, contract flying and crews to major air cargo consolidators, freight forwarders and express carriers, including Cargojet. The move gives Cargojet greater access to the U.S. market.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]