Fare Vs. Fair

by Wayne Prins on June 20, 2013

After three days on the road, I was looking forward to going back to my home in Fort McMurray. I was booked on the six o’clock flight from Edmonton.

It bothered me that I wouldn’t be home in time to see my young daughter before bedtime, so I was very excited to discover that they were just about to board a five o’clock flight to Fort McMurray.

I had no checked luggage, so I hurried up to the counter to see if any seats were available. Yes! The flight was only half-full! The agent was nearly finished switching my flight when she reminded me of the $75 change fee, plus GST.

I’m a loyal customer with the airline and I asked if they could waive the fee. No. The rules were the rules, even though it would have cost them nothing to change my flight.

I couldn’t justify the expense to save an hour, so I sat and watched as the five o’clock flight boarded and departed on time. Then I watched as my six o’clock flight was delayed by an hour. One hour turned into two, then three. I didn’t get home until almost midnight. It didn’t seem fair.

Fairness for workers is among CLAC’s most basic and fundamental pursuits. According to Webster’s, “fair” in a legal context is defined as “that which conforms to the established rules.” But how we experience fairness is much more complex than simply following the rules or, in a unionized workplace, the collective agreement.

CLAC representatives often deal with allegations of unfair treatment. It’s their job to sort through the details to determine whether the collective agreement has in fact been breached or whether the circumstances felt unfair but didn’t actually breach the rules.

When a conflict is pushed to arbitration, the rules are often all that matter, and other factors that may have felt unfair are typically left unresolved. That’s why CLAC strives to resolve issues before then.

It’s also one of the reasons why maintaining a cooperative relationship with your employer is the most effective way to achieve true fairness for members—fairness that extends beyond just conforming to the rules.

My episode with the airline bugged me for weeks. Perhaps it was unreasonable for me to expect the airline to bend the rules for my convenience. But if the airline shared CLAC’s approach to fairness, the agent may have been able to drop the $75 change fee. Then I would have flown home feeling like a valued and appreciated customer—and maybe made it back in time to be with my family and see my daughter before bed.

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