Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rule-breakers harm brand: Air Canada. Airline boss vows to punish workers who participate in civil disobedience

MONTREAL - In a letter to employees obtained by The Gazette late Friday, Air Canada president Calin Rovinescu threatened to prosecute or punish employees who again break rules or the law.

“We cannot and will not tolerate any form of civil disobedience, illegal activity, harassment of customers, intimidation of employees trying to do their jobs or deliberate damage to the company or the brand,” Rovinescu wrote.

“In such circumstances, we would have no option but to seek all civil or penal remedies available at law.”

He called the last two weeks “tumultuous” for Air Canada, including the binding legislation forbidding pilots and mechanics to strike; the book-offs by more pilots than usual; the Aveos shutdown and sudden bankruptcy; the demonstration by Aveos employees in front of Air Canada’s head office in Montreal; and the wildcat action Friday morning that was curtailed by a cease-and-desist order and resulted in the cancellation of “a significant number of flights.”

Rovinescu again took the opportunity to absolve Air Canada of any blame in the stunning shutdown of aircraft maintenance firm Aveos, which threw more than 2,600 workers out of work on the spot, 1,800 of them in Montreal.

And he pointed the finger at “certain union leaders” for making alarmist and “irresponsible statements regarding the integrity or safety of our maintenance, repair and overhaul activities following the Aveos closure. Safety is and always will be our first priority.”

Air Canada, he insisted, did all it could and should have done to help Aveos.

Of about 30 Aveos employees interviewed by The Gazette over two weeks, all except one accused the airline of manoeuvring to starve Aveos of business so the carrier could be free to sign up cheaper service providers.

The letter also confirmed a number of tips The Gazette has received in the last two weeks that Aveos president Joe Kolshak and chief commercial officer Paul Lochab, former United Airlines managers, returned to the U.S. just before the shutdown was announced. Rovinescu did not name the executives, but said that “Aveos’s closure and the abrupt and irresponsible manner in which their employees were treated is not only regrettable, it is reprehensible – especially as most of the senior leadership of Aveos left Canada before the bankruptcy filing rather than face their employees.”

Rovinescu said despite Aveos having conducted 91 per cent of Air Canada airframe checks and 93 per cent of engine checks – both complete overhaul procedures that can take weeks or more – “the truth is the closure of the Aveos facilities does not have an impact on our day-to-day activities nor on our scheduled operation.”

He did not explain the apparent contradiction.

Air Canada has lined up “new qualified and government-approved maintenance facilities as part of our transitional arrangements.”

Premier Aviation of Trois Rivi̬res is one Рalthough the company has not said which of its three locations would do the work, Trois Rivi̬res, Rome, N.Y., or a facility opening in late April at the airport in Windsor, Ont.

“None of our maintenance activities have been performed at the Aeroman facility in El Salvador” owned by Aveos. But he did not say whether they would be done at the fast-expanding facility in future.

Things have settled down, but he warned that the pilot book-offs “did garner a lot of media attention, inconvenienced many of our customers and did damage to our brand and to our revenue base.”

Rovinescu also warned of “significant consequences” from the wildcat strike.

He said he was “very disappointed that union leaders and our own employees would deliberately choose to damage the company to advance their own goals and you should be, too. It is this company that pays their salaries, feeds their families, covers their medical costs and benefits, funds their pensions and provides them with travel privileges.”

The incidents “are not intimidating management” but are “instead damaging our brand and shaking the faith of our customers ... We cannot take (them) for granted – they have other options.”

The wildcat, book-offs and “media impact resulting from the Aveos’s closure is doubtlessly eroding our customers’ confidence.”

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