#914 Flying union high
Arrivals and Departures
by Christine Hayvice
Toronto: Unifor Local 2002, 2020
$35.00 / 9780968150511. Contact address: email@example.com
Reviewed by Ron Verzuh
Flying Union High: An insider’s look at the history of union bargaining at Canada’s airlines
I love flying and I’ve done my share of it. Now I’m grounded like most of the world, thanks to Covid, so reading a title like this had me longing for a chance to hop on a plane again. Alas, despite its title, this is not a travel guide. Instead, it is about the people who work for Canada’s airlines and a guide to their union negotiations.
When we fly again, I’ll go back to travel writer Rick Steves for advice on the best boutique hotel in Amsterdam, the preferred paella in Barcelona, or the creamiest cannoli in Palermo, Sicily. For now, Christine Hayvice is the ticket for details on how airline unions fought for a fair workplace on the ground and in the sky.
The former teletypist at CP Air takes us step by step through union demands, grievance settlements, and the internal mechanics of airline unions. Hayvice is an important member of the union as both a leader and a negotiator, so Arrivals and Departures is a personal narrative although she refers to herself in the third person.
The book tracks the history of the Order of Railroad Telegraphers representing mostly male Morse Code transmitters. With the advent of the Teletype machine, ORT began to represent women agents. We follow ORT’s transformation into a union of airline agents, dispatchers, and radio operators. The latter group steered bush pilots in Canada’s Far North. (Flight attendants, baggage handlers, mechanics, and pilots had their own unions.)
The story starts at the old Canadian Pacific Airlines (CPAL) in the early 1940s and runs to 2002 when the union merged to become Canadian Auto Workers Local 1990 (now Unifor Local 2002).
Using successive collective agreements, Hayvice documents the victories and setbacks that affected the membership. Among the many workplace issues to be negotiated, hours of work and wage increases were always paramount. At bargaining time, this was what kept the membership attentive. But there was an associated issue that insured women members stayed involved. It was also what motivated Hayvice.
The bargaining table was the battleground for women’s pay equity and general equality. Hayvice played a leadership role in winning hard-fought advances for her female members, both at the airlines and within the union.
Some bargaining issues were unusual. For example, what attracts young workers to airlines is the possibility of free air travel. Later they would worry about pensions and health care and their union would work to improve those benefits. When young, however, travel passes are the gold ring. The union ensured that travel benefits remained on the table and improved over the years to include family members.
Dress codes and uniforms are common in many union agreements, especially where safety is concerned. But for many airline workers, the uniform is a requirement. In the early years, members thought the “style unbecoming.” Many complained that they were “walking advertisements.” They also resented having to pay for them. The union negotiated paid uniforms.
Among her other jobs, Hayvice specialized in communicating complex issues to the membership through union publications. Those and her meeting minutes gave her a ready source for recounting the long years of fighting for the rights of airline workers. But to her credit she doesn’t rely solely on those written sources. She also quotes from interviews with several of the union’s executive members, and she has airline workers tell their stories. Many photographs assist the reader.
Hayvice offers no analytical conclusion in this almost 500-page account. She has included a helpful timeline, but there is no summary of her many thoughtful insights into the airline bargaining process. In a one-page Afterword, she laments that “The future is not bright for passenger service workers . . . , with the continually changing technology and the ongoing threat of contracting out.”
She points to those changes as underscoring the continued importance of unions in providing “workers’ protection and stability.” With Arrivals and Departures, Hayvice tells one story that illustrates that importance. It is well documented and carefully referenced, but much of the book reads too much like a convention report or a set of meeting minutes.
The union commissioned the book, so for Hayvice and her union executive colleagues, it is a trip down memory’s runway. But it is also a record of the big union fights for human rights, environmental safety, workplace safety, and technological change. Here we walk the line with the author.
For readers interested in the finer points of the collective bargaining process, Hayvice spares no detail in outlining the tedious hours spent at the bargaining table, the good and bad relations with the employer, and the sometimes testy disagreements with other airline unions. However, for the many workers at Canada’s airports and airways who benefit from the efforts of their bargaining teams, this is less compelling reading.
Ron Verzuh is a writer, historian, and former trade union staff member.
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