Facebook Shake-up: Flight Attendants, Air Canada, and CUPE

Workers’ ability to connect on social media casts a new variable into CUPE’s labour negotiations with Air Canada.

Air Canada Social Media | BCBusiness
Social media have fundamentally altered modern labour negotiations, as Air Canada’s flight attendants and a raucous Facebook page are proving.

Workers’ ability to connect on social media casts a new variable into CUPE’s labour negotiations with Air Canada.

Air Canada’s flight attendants recently rejected the second tentative deal between the company and their union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). That their union twice failed to have brokered deals accepted is noteworthy, and it highlight unprecedented role of social media in modern labour negotiations.

In the Air Canada dispute, the venue is Facebook. More than half of the 6,800 flight attendants have contributed to a Facebook page bashing both the company and CUPE. This kind of discussion – national, immediate, and unfiltered – was technically impossible until recently. The result? Online, workers can form and express opinions that don’t reflect the positions taken by their union. And those votes can cohere into large blocs.

Dysfunctional collective bargaining at Air Canada is nothing new. Last May, members of its Pilots Association rejected a tentative agreement recommended by the union, and in September dispatchers turned down another union-recommended deal. The disputes have a common feature: in both, pilots and dispatchers took to Facebook to challenge their elected union officials.

At root for the workers is a question: Is the union fighting hard for the issues we care most about. In traditional collective bargaining, that was hard to answer definitively. Employees were not privy to negotiations with management; if workers voted to endorse a tentative deal, it was because their union had persuaded them it represented the best deal possible. Now, workers’ ability to connect and discuss can sow doubt the union is doing an adequate job. The result, for all parties, is disorder. Air Canada executives are reportedly “taken aback” that the flight attendants are questioning the legitimacy of their union representatives.

The lesson for unions is clear: engage with your members on all media platforms, period. The price of exclusion is high. Companies, for their part, should support broader, freer communications between unions and members. Executives need to know that the messages they receive from the union reflect the will of the employees – and that tentative deals result in collective agreements that produce lasting labour peace.   


This blog is written by Nicole Byres of Clark Wilson LLP and made available by BCBusiness to provide general information on employment law, and is not a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Neither the reading of this blog nor the sending of unsolicited comments or emails creates a lawyer-client relationship with the writer or Clark Wilson LLP.