Aircraft maintainers who are responsible for keeping the fleet safe for those keeping the public safe are heading to binding arbitration with their employer.
The decision follows a breakdown in collective bargaining.
Members of the Union of National Defence Employees (which represents approximately 18,000 public and private sector workers at DND facilities across Canada) Local 1018 have been working without a collective agreement since June 30, 2015.
About 50 Search and Rescue aircraft maintainers who provide in-service support at CFB Comox for SARTechs have “been struggling with this for 28 months now,” explained Rick Levigne, president of UNDE Local 1018.
IMP Aerospace and Defence is the prime contractor for the Department of National Defence’s fleet of Cormorant Search and Rescue CH-149 helicopters.
The aircraft maintainers are the mechanics of the helicopter, and provide day-to-day repairs should a system or part fail. There are also members who perform more in-depth detailed scheduled inspections, as well as those who perform logistical and administrative functions.
As they are deemed an essential service, employees are not allowed to strike.
Levine said the union has had three rounds of “very ineffective bargaining and one attempt at mediation,” and the arbitration affects about 75 unionized employees who provide service for the SAR helicopter in both Comox and Gander, Newfoundland.
The last contract was a five-year deal signed in 2010, and Levine noted the last time the union was at the bargaining table with its employer was seven years ago. He added there are many updates in language in the collective agreement, but the main issues include health and safety concerns, increased benefits and wage parity with the industry standard.
In a statement, 19 Wing Public Affairs said the Royal Canadian Air Force remains on standby to deliver search and rescue with its Cormorant helicopters, with the full support of IMP and its employees.
It noted as the maintenance of the helicopter is an essential service, the ongoing contract process between IMP and its employees does not affect the SAR mission.
In an attempt to raise public awareness, the local union created a bus sign campaign, which was featured on local transit within the Comox Valley.
“With IMP, we are dealing with a major player in the world of defence contractors; many Canadians are not aware that the RCAF does not perform maintenance on many of the fleets they operate,” said Levine.
Currently, the union has dates at the end of Feb. 2018 for arbitration, and Levine noted he would hope to have a decision 60 to 90 days after the hearing.
“When you go to binding arbitration, everyone loses really; nobody is ever happy when a third party has to impose a settlement.”
Calls to Halifax-based IMP Group for comment were not returned.