Nunavut union dumps First Air, partners with Canadian North

Lucrative deal gives 4,200 NEU members and their families discounted leisure airfares

By LISA GREGOIRE

Canadian North is now the official carrier of the Nunavut Employees Union thanks to a new deal between the union and the airline that gives members discounted fares on leisure travel. First Air held that designation for six years but a recent request for proposals for the union's 4,200 members resulted in a better offer from Canadian North. (FILE PHOTO)


Canadian North is now the official carrier of the Nunavut Employees Union thanks to a new deal between the union and the airline that gives members discounted fares on leisure travel. First Air held that designation for six years but a recent request for proposals for the union’s 4,200 members resulted in a better offer from Canadian North. (FILE PHOTO)

After six years of partnering with First Air to get discounted airfares for Nunavut Employees Union members, the territorial union has switched gears and struck a new deal with First Air’s competitor Canadian North.

The two-year deal, with an option to renew, gives special reduced airfares to the NEU’s 4,200 members and their families for leisure travel.

Bill Fennell, president of the NEU, told Nunatsiaq News Feb. 1 that, after the First Air contract expired, the union decided to put out a request for proposals on a new deal. Canadian North submitted an offer the NEU couldn’t refuse.

“We’re quite excited to work with Canadian North, on behalf of our members. It’s a much better deal for them and it will help them and their families,” Fennell said.

The NEU made the announcement Feb. 1 saying in a news release that “the NEU works for those that make Nunavut work and that is why we have chosen Canadian North Airlines as our air travel partner.”

That sounds like jab at First Air which was criticized online last week beneath a Nunatsiaq News story on the company’s expanded partnership with the Yellowknife-based Summit Air.

While both First Air and Canadian North are unionized shops, Summit Air is not. Commenters suggested First Air was doing an end run around the union by increasing charter passenger service beyond its current Kitikmeot service with the non-unionized Summit Air.

Fennell said Canadian North’s contract bid was simply better than First Air’s bid, but he didn’t deny that the NEU was disappointed with Summit Air’s expansion under its First Air partnership.

“As a union, we always want to deal with unionized service providers,” Fennell said.

“Before, for us, it was just an east-west flight and now they’re talking about expanding it to a Baffin flight, so it’s always a factor when we see people changing. But the real factor was that it was just a better deal for our members.”

The details of the union airfare discounts are not made public—Fennell called them “significant”—and neither is the code needed to get those fares public.

Members who want to book flights on Canadian North and take advantage of the union discount must first call the NEU to get a special code.

And the NEU plans to protect that code better than it used to.

About a year ago, First Air and the union discovered that a private business which did a lot of north-south travel had been using the code to book its own plane tickets. The NEU quickly changed the code.

Fennell would not name the company nor the total revenue that First Air lost as a result but said the amount was “very significant.”

Going forward, the code will be changed periodically to avoid that happening again, Fennell said.

In other union news, the NEU said it expects to be busy at the bargaining table this coming spring spring.

Negotiators have tried to hammer out a deal for City of Iqaluit employees since their contract expired in December 2015.

Fennell said he’s heard that a federal conciliator might begin mediation in March but he has no written confirmation of that yet.

And as of Jan. 1, about 140 Qulliq Energy Corp. employees are officially without a contract. Fennell said he expects those negotiations will begin this spring as well.

The last time the NEU negotiated a contract with the QEC, they reached a stalemate and workers went on strike, in July 2015.

That strike lasted nearly four weeks before both parties agreed on a wage-benefit package.

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