Rise Air pilots vote to join Unifor Local 1604

Pilots from newly rebranded northern airline Rise Air have agreed to join Unifor Local 1604 following a representation vote in mid-March.

The move came in response to the merger of Transwest Air and West Wind Aviation. The two groups consolidated operations in January to create Rise Air, and would have had union and non-union pilots working together.

Tracy Young-McLean, Rise Air’s vice-president of human resources and corporate services, said the decision will help with collection bargaining negotiations, which are expected to begin in the next month or two.

“From a management perspective, it puts everybody on the same playing field,” Young-McLean explained. “We have worked with Unifor for a number of years and we are quite confident that we will work well with them together to meet the unique needs of a northern regional airline.”

Unifor has represented West Wind Aviation pilots since 2013, but the last collective bargaining agreement expired in March 2020.

Rise Air applied for an accretion, which would have allowed a small group of employees to join the bargaining unit. However, the Canadian Industrial Relations Board agreed to permit the pilots to hold a representation vote instead.

Kevin Bittman, the national representative for Local 1604, said a transition like this one already presents multiple challenges. Getting all pilots represented under the same banner will help simplify things.

“You’re bringing a whole company that didn’t have a collective agreement into a group that has one, so it definitely will clear some things up once the bargaining process is done,” he explained.

Bittman said they’ve been trying to get all pilots on board since the merger. He’s optimistic it will lead to smooth labour relations down the road.

“I think the big benefit from this is for the pilots,” he added. “The pilots voted overwhelmingly in joining Unifor, (and) in having Unifor represent them. In this day and age, with lots going on with COVID, I think it’s important that they have representation.”