Air Canada workers ratify new contract

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Air Canada's customer service and airport workers have voted 87.7 per cent in favour of a new collective agreement reached under the threat of back-to-work legislation, the Canadian Auto Workers union said Monday.

CAW President Ken Lewenza said the new agreement was achieved after weeks of tough bargaining on many difficult issues, including the airline's demands for significant concessions and cuts to the pension plan.

The new agreement provides workers with wage increases of nine per cent over four years. The union said it also re-establishes a 30-minute paid lunch break, secures work at Chorus, the Halifax airline formerly known as Jazz Air, and provides many other improvements.

Key elements of the pension plan remain in place. The only adjustment occurs in January 2013 in the early retirement provisions of the agreement. Pension benefits for new hires will be sent to a mediation process and then to a jointly chosen arbitrator if no resolution is found.

Lewenza blasted the Harper government's "heavy-handed" approach in ordering employees back to work just 16 hours after the strike began.

The CAW represents 3,800 members who are customer service and sales agents at Air Canada. Voting took place over the last week.

The contract is viewed by analysts as a template for negotiations between Canada's largest airline and its pilots, flight attendants and mechanics.

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