Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

StandardAero in union's sights

CAW attempts to organize workers in city

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The Canadian Auto Workers union is in the process of attempting to organize workers at StandardAero in Winnipeg, one of the largest manufacturing workplaces in the city that is not covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Tom Murphy, the CAW's area director in Manitoba, said it's too early to say how well the membership drive is going, but he said there seems to be a lot of interest.

"We are going to go forward with a campaign," Murphy said. "Why now? Well, we already have Boeing and Bristol Aerospace plants and there seems to be an appetite there from the folks to join our union."

In Manitoba, if 65 per cent of the workforce signs union cards the workplace is automatically certified. If 40 per cent of the respondents indicate they are in favour, a vote of the entire workforce is held. That vote would need 50 per cent-plus-one approval for the certification to go ahead.

Kyle Hultquist, vice-president of marketing and communications for StandardAero, said the company declined to comment for this story.

Regardless of the success of the undertaking, efforts to attain union certification at a workplace have been few and far between in Winnipeg over the past couple of decades.

John Godard, a professor at the University of Manitoba's Asper School of Business who teaches labour and employment relations, said there are a number of reasons why workers seek to organize.

"Typically, something happens to create some sort of distrust in the workplace, like a concern about wage cuts or concerns about jobs being moved," Godard said.

There is no evidence that is the case at StandardAero. By all accounts, the gas turbine engine repair and overhaul company has been on a good run for the last several years with sizable new contracts and significant expansion. The company has close to 1,400 employees in Winnipeg.

As well, StandardAero has in the past prided itself for having a fairly sophisticated employee-relations system.

"That may have obviated the perceived need for a union," Godard said. "But often what happens (with those kind of arrangements) is that they break down over time for various reasons and workers think the trust that has been built up is being violated or threatened."

The provincial aerospace industry in general has had a decent track record of growth, notwithstanding the closure last year of Aveos Fleet Performance Inc. (formerly Air Canada Technical Services). The sector is now dominated by three large employers -- Boeing, Bristol and StandardAero.

Ken Webb, the executive director of the Manitoba Aerospace Association said, "Those three companies -- two represented by the CAW and one without -- have all been successful in their own right with the organization they have that they have built up over time. It demonstrates that success can be had independent of whether the workplace is unionized or not."

Murphy said if workers do decide to become members of the CAW, the collective bargaining process could lead to better job security and some increase in wages and benefits.

He said although there are different types of skills and job classifications at play, workers at StandardAero may make slightly less than those at Boeing and Bristol.

John Doyle, a spokesman for the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said there has not been a lot of union organizing in the province for a number of reasons. He said the manufacturing sector and large-scale workplaces have been under pressure for a long time with a lot of plant closures and jobs transferred to other facilities in low-wage environments.

"In that sort of environment, it makes it a bit harder to convince people to get up the courage to form a collective bargaining unit," he said.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2012 B5

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