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Air Canada unions say pensions are a priority

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Three labour unions at Air Canada Inc said Monday the preservation of pension funds ranks as one of the top priorities in their negotiations with the country's biggest airline.

In a joint statement, the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW), the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said they wanted workers' defined benefit pension plans to remain unchanged.

"We will make the maintenance of the plan, including employer contributions that are the necessary consequence of past funding deferrals, a central priority during our coming collective bargaining with Air Canada," the groups said.

Defined benefit plans guarantee payments for retirees. The plans have become unpopular with employers, who have run into trouble trying to fund them and increasingly shifted to defined contribution plans that offer no payout guarantees.

The unions said Air Canada wants to cut pension benefits for existing employees and eliminate defined benefit plans for new employees.

Air Canada is currently in negotiation with five unions after their contracts expired earlier this year.

The CAW represents 3,800 customer service and sales agents across Canada at Air Canada. IAMAW's 12,300 members at the airline include mechanics, baggage handlers, cargo agents, clerical jobs, while CUPE represents more than 6,800 flight attendants.

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