A new petition is demanding that Air Canada takes steps to end its “culture of sexual harassment” and calls for an end to the company’s flight manager program aimed at improving customer service.
The petition is the latest in a series of industry-wide complaints targeting airlines for their alleged lax approach towards sexism, sexual discrimination and sexual harassment.
International consumer advocacy group SumOfUs launched its petition in support of a recent CUPE complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission which claimed that Air Canada’s flight attendants are facing “rampant sexual harassment and discrimination” on the job. Sparked by the company’s unveiling of a new line of uniforms, the complaint alleges that flight attendants were asked to model the new attire in a “sexualized fashion show” and that female attendants were being subject to degrading and discriminatory remarks about their appearance by on-board flight managers —one of whom told a female attendant to “show more cleavage” to customers.
The union says that the issue was brought to Air Canada but was perfunctorily dismissed by management, while the CUPE complaint is now seen as yet another instance of controversy within the airline industry, as it along with others such as the entertainment and political spheres grapple with society-wide changes connected to the #MeToo movement.
“Over the years and to this day, airlines have ordered employees to lose weight, have a body mass index (BMI) within a certain range, have teeth that fit a set of requirements, along with many other requirements,” reads the SumOfUs petition. “These policies contribute to an overall sense that it is okay to objectify flight attendants who are overwhelmingly women. It is high time these requirements and this culture change.”
So far, Air Canada has come out in defence of its flight manager program as well as its own harassment and discrimination policies. “[We] have established processes in place to deal with any such complaints and to act upon them,” said Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick to CBC News.
Earlier this year, Canada’s other major carrier, WestJet, filed an appeal of a Supreme Court of BC ruling which dismissed the company’s earlier application to throw out a proposed class-action lawsuit against WestJet, one which alleges the company fostered a corporate culture that discriminates against female employees. In the lawsuit, former flight attendant Mandalena Lewis claims that the company broke its promise to provide a harassment-free workplace when it allowed a pilot she says sexually assaulted her to keep his job.
Elsewhere, this past December, the head of the international flight attendants union called on airline CEOs to publicly denounce the systemic objectification of women they say has been part and parcel of the industry for decades. In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Sara Nelson wrote, “Even today, we are called pet names, patted on the rear when a passenger wants our attention, cornered in the back galley and asked about our “hottest” layover, and subjected to incidents not fit for print.”
“Like the rest of our society, flight attendants have never had reason to believe that reports of the sexual harassment we experience on the job would be taken seriously, rather than dismissed or retaliated against,” Nelson stated.