Aveos workers set up national class-action showdown

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Former Aveos airplane maintenance workers have beefed up their efforts to pursue a $1-billion class-action suit against Air Canada and the governments of Canada and Quebec.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/04/2017 (2128 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Former Aveos airplane maintenance workers have beefed up their efforts to pursue a $1-billion class-action suit against Air Canada and the governments of Canada and Quebec.

Lawyers from the Quebec firm Trudel Johnston & Lespérance have joined other firms in the province — Jean-François Bertrand Avocats Inc., Bruno-Pierre Allard and Jean Poirier — in litigating the class action.

More than 400 Winnipeg Aveos workers, who lost their jobs in 2012 when Aveos Fleet Performance closed its doors, are eligible to join the class action. Aveos was spun off from the former Air Canada Technical Services.

Mark Blinch / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Former airplane maintenance workers have ramped up efforts to force Air Canada into a settlement in their $1-billion class-action lawsuit.

Gilbert McMullen, a Montreal-based spokesman for the laid-off workers, said the addition of the Trudel firm puts more firepower behind efforts to get Air Canada to settle.

“We think it will mean that Air Canada will no longer be able to play their games,” McMullen said.

The lawsuit likely represents the last opportunity at compensation for workers who believe the shutdown of the plant was a “flagrant and deliberate violation” of the Air Canada Public Participation Act. That act required Air Canada to maintain operation centres in Winnipeg, Montreal and Mississauga.

When Aveos went out of business, the airline shipped those jobs elsewhere, many of them out of the country.

Air Canada argued because it still had line maintenance workers in those cities, the airline was not violating the law. Quebec and Manitoba disagreed, and the former filed a lawsuit against the airline. Manitoba was an intervener in the case. A Quebec court sided with the provinces, and that decision was upheld on appeal. The case was destined for the Supreme Court of Canada, but the airline negotiated settlements with the two provinces.

Air Canada said it would establish maintenance centres of excellence in Winnipeg and Montreal. In Quebec, the airline also has committed to a maintenance contract on the Quebec-made C-Series jets Air Canada intends to purchase.

In return, Quebec and Manitoba withdrew their legal challenges.

However, the promised centre of excellence in Winnipeg has not materializing.

Air Canada has stated publicly on several occasions it was supporting the establishment of Manitoba operations for three of its suppliers — Cargojet Airways Ltd., Hope Aero Propeller & Components Inc. and Airbase Services Inc. The plan was for them to locate in the old Aveos hangar on Saskatchewan Avenue. Air Canada recently signed another 10-year lease on the buildings.

Last year, it was rumoured Cargojet would build a heavy maintenance operation there and might need to hire a few hundred workers. It seems increasingly unlikely the Mississauga-based cargo carrier is going to follow through with that.

An industry official familiar with the heavy maintenance business in Canada said he understands Cargojet is not coming to Winnipeg. “That page has been turned, and I strongly doubt it will be reopened.”

Barry Rempel, the CEO of Winnipeg Airports Authority, is decidedly less optimistic than he was only a few months ago about Cargojet setting up in Winnipeg. The WAA holds the land lease on those Air Canada hangars and is strongly motivated to see it occupied and generating economic activity.

“I’ve come to the point of believing the hoped-for Cargojet work is unlikely but for reasons that have nothing to do with Winnipeg… location or business climate,” Rempel said in an email exchange. “We are pursuing what we hope to have potential for some additional Air Canada partner work here, but nothing is yet firm.”

Cargojet had no comment, spokeswoman Pauline Dhillon said.

Air Canada is still officially sticking to the party line.

“Our commitment to all three remains unchanged,” company spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said.

Officials from Hope and Airbase were unavailable for comment, but a Winnipeg aerospace industry official said Airbase — an airplane interior cabinet and furnishings manufacturer and maintenance organization — is in the process of setting up a shop, with four employees in Winnipeg.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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