Following some years of bitter labour relations including strikes and lock-outs, workers at Air Canada’s Finance Branch invited the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers to help rid them of their current representatives, CALEA. The IAM&AW represented a large group of Air Canada workers, the ramp and baggage handlers, cargo agents and mechanics. Besides, the IAM&AW commanded respect in the airline industry in general.
Clarence Bremner of Local 714 conducted the certification drive with assistance from Mike Pitchford of District Lodge 148, the umbrella group of IAM&AW Air Canada Locals. Support was provided from the Canadian office of the IAM through its Grand Lodge representative, Bob Biggar. On May 2, 1977, a Charter was issued to the Finance Branch workers naming them Local Lodge 2603.
Connie Edmonds was named interim President. Ethel McKellar became the first Shop Committee Chairperson. Back in those days few women were in leadership positions in their Locals, but the Finance Local represented many working women. It provided leadership on issues such as flextime, Maternity and Child Care Leave. In successive rounds of negotiations, improvements were made to standardize training and education requirements for a broad-banded job classification structure that allowed workers greater flexibility to move and promote between departments within the Finance Branch.
Joyce Kalyniuk became President. John Sagriff replaced Ethel as Shop Committee Chairperson. This hardworking duo became the backbone of a well-respected Local Lodge Executive that included Bill Rumsey, Steve Kit, Noreen Redpath and Sophie Crow, among others. On a personal note, Joyce and John much later were married!
When Joyce chose not to re-run, John ran successfully for President and won. John is noted for having chaired a round of negotiations on behalf of Local 2603, a rare feat that most often falls to a District Lodge nominee.
Heather Davis succeeded John as Shop Committee Chairperson, but left the post early for Maternity Leave and the job fell to Kathy Kristjansson. Kathy steered the course for nine years, and saw several Presidents through their terms: John, Steve Kit, Rob Fairbairn, Karl Bonnett, and Bev Watson.
Air Canada sold its credit card business, and computer technology was changing work and the need for staff. Negotiations and Shop Committee activities dealt creatively with ways to manage the adjustments while upholding workers rights.
After Kathy declined to re-run, Ray Watts became Shop Committee Chairperson during Bev’s tenure as President. Following, Ray won the Presidency, and the Shop Committee Chairperson was Peter Mykichuk. Negotiations produced a collective agreement with a six-year duration in hope of providing mutual stability for the airline and its workers in the turbulent climate. Again, new challenges faced the Local, as Air Canada filed for bankruptcy protection post 911.
An Executive election has resulted in Wendy Jackson succeeding Marielle Hoffman as President and Monique Edwards succeeding Karene Strachan as Shop Committee Chairperson. The issues confronting them are huge, as Air Canada’s future is clouded and the pension plan under attack. As many have before them, they dutifully work to find solutions and to uphold workers’ rights.