Ex-workers celebrate Air Canada court victory
‘Finally it’s justice’ after ruling orders compensation in 2012 aviation maintenance layoffs
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Ten years after they were laid off, Winnipeg aviation workers are celebrating a long-awaited legal victory.
“Finally, it’s justice for all of us. The public will now see the wrongdoings of Air Canada,” said Renald Courcelles, who worked for Air Canada for 23 years until its Winnipeg maintenance base closed in 2012.
Courcelles was one of three Manitobans who testified during the class-action court process. He flew to Montreal and spent about 45 minutes on the stand in October 2021. Lawyers for the workers wanted them to tell the court about the hardships they experienced after they were laid off after Aveos Fleet Performance, an aircraft maintenance company contracted by Air Canada, went under.
In a Nov. 10 ruling, the Quebec Superior Court decided Air Canada had an obligation to operate the aircraft maintenance centres in Winnipeg, Montreal and Missisauga, Ont., after Aveos went bankrupt. Instead, all of the workers at those centres lost their jobs. More than 2,000 heavy-maintenance workers — more than 400 of whom were in Winnipeg — were laid off. As part of the outcome of the class-action lawsuit former Aveos workers brought against Air Canada, the corporation has been ordered to pay compensation to former staff, and a claims process will be established. Air Canada’s failure to keep the maintenance centres open was a violation of the Air Canada Public Participation Act. That federal legislation has since been changed.
For Courcelles, who worked as a trim-and-finish mechanic installing and repairing aircraft windows and windshields, the court ruling makes clear the maintenance centre closures had nothing to do with the experienced crews working there.
“The public knows that it wasn’t our fault. We had a good workforce in Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. We know that. And as for compensation, well, we’ll have to wait… and see what happens.”
He said he did his best to speak up for his former co-workers during the court process.
“It’s come to an end, and it’s a very good end,” he added.
Ian Robbins was planning early retirement from Air Canada and was only two years away from it when he was laid off in March 2012.
The air force veteran worked as an avionics engineer for Air Canada/Aveos for nearly 13 years. Robbins testified virtually during the class-action suit. He and Courcelles were among 18 former employees who offered testimony.
Air Canada was beginning to outsource its heavy maintenance when Aveos was formed, and Air Canada maintenance employees held union votes to determine whether they would become Aveos employees or stay with Air Canada, Robbins explained.
Staff who chose to stay with Air Canada were transferred to maintenance centres in other cities.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Robbins said of the court ruling, expressing gratitude that the court battle is over and hope that there will be a fair settlement, with an eye to how the dismantling of the Winnipeg centre affected the growth of Manitoba’s aviation industry.
“I used to be so angry because this was my dream job, and I would’ve gotten a $2,000 a month pension,” Robbins said. He was able to retire two years ago, thanks in large part to his military pension. He said the work caused him hearing loss and required him to have a knee replacement.
The layoff, he said, “was very hard mentally, physically, financially.”
“I want to feel that it was worth 10 years of pain and suffering.”
Air Canada hasn’t confirmed whether it will appeal the court ruling. In a statement, an unnamed spokesperson for the corporation wrote:
“Air Canada has always acted in good faith in this case, which the court has recognized while confirming that Air Canada did not cause the closure of Aveos. Consequently, the court rejected the claim for punitive damages. We will take the time to review the decision before deciding on next steps.”
For now, the ruling is a “moral victory” for former employees with monetary gain on the horizon, said Mike Maskell, who worked as an aircraft maintenance engineer in Winnipeg for 24 years.
“It’s been quite a roller-coaster ride from the day we were laid off in March of 2012… I’m extremely grateful that maybe this is the final chapter in the book, that we can move on and get past all this, perhaps even a little bit of remuneration for our troubles,” Maskell said.
— with Canadian Press files
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.