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(CBC) AC FAs Sexually Harassed by Management


Kip Powick
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Dress to show more cleavage. Freshen up hair and makeup on the job. Line up for a physical critique. These are just some of the instructions Air Canada flight attendants were given in a bid to improve customer service, their union alleges in a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

CUPE filed the complaint this month, claiming that Air Canada flight attendants face rampant sexual harassment and discrimination, and that the airline has done little to address the problem.

The complaint comes as flight attendants across North America are becoming more vocal about harassment in their industry.

Air Canada employs 8,500 flight attendants. The airline says it has zero tolerance for harassment or discrimination, and that the union never shared its claims of a systemic problem before filing the complaint.

'Strut their stuff'

CUPE's complaint follows recent changes at Air Canada including stylish new uniforms for staff.

The union claims Air Canada ran training sessions where flight attendants had to model the new uniform, and were told to "strut their stuff" down a makeshift runway — complete with a spin at the end — in what the union called "a sexualized fashion show."

"These individuals were critiqued and judged by management on a pass/fail basis on their ability to put on this 'show' for their colleagues and management," says the complaint.

It claims one attendant failed because he was "prancing" too much on the catwalk. The employee — who is gay — found the comment upsetting.

The complaint also claims flight attendants faced scrutiny off the runway: Managers lined them up in the hallway in their new uniforms and graded how they looked. They even assessed their makeup and nails, the union said.

"They were subjected to degrading and discriminatory comments," said the complaint, including critiques such as "eyes were too small" and skin colour was "too white."

The statement also says a manager told female flight attendants they should wear the optional dress uniform more often "in order to 'show more cleavage' to customers."

The complaint also referenced an updated handbook for flight attendants that dictates what colour and type of undergarment to wear, and dedicates three full pages to makeup advice for female employees.

Sexual harassment allegations

The complaint also includes individual sexual harassment allegations that CUPE claims stem from a recently launched effort to improve customer service by having managers coach crew members while on the plane. 

The union claims some managers are taking liberties with the flight attendants.

In one allegation, a male manager observing an on-board crew made origami breasts with the linen napkins and placed an oxygen mask over his groin during a safety demonstration.

In another, a male manager sexually harassed a male flight attendant during a flight by sitting "uncomfortably close" to him and making sexually suggestive comments.

That manager also allegedly watched the employee at a hotel gym during the flight layover.

The human rights complaint says the issue was brought before Air Canada and was "stunningly dismissed" by the company. CUPE also claims other similar complaints to the airline were ignored.

The union says it wants the behaviour to stop and for Air Canada to end its new training program.

Air Canada says the program is important, because it has helped improve customer service on flights. The airline also says it takes all harassment claims seriously.

"[We] have established processes in place to deal with any such complaints and to act upon them," spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email to CBC News.

Allegations against WestJet

The allegations come at a time when flight attendants are speaking out about an industry they claim is rife with harassment.

Former WestJet flight attendant, Mandalena Lewis alleges she was sexually assaulted by a WestJet pilot in 2010.

In 2016, she filed a proposed class action lawsuit, claiming WestJet has failed to create a safe work environment for female flight attendants.

WestJet has said it won't comment while the matter is before the courts. When Lewis first went public with her allegations, the airline said it followed proper procedure in her case.

Mandalena Lewis, a former WestJet flight attendant, is suing the airline, alleging it did not properly investigate her sexual assault allegation against a pilot. (Ioanna Roumeliotis/CBC)

Meanwhile, in the U.S. last week, the head of the union representing 50,000 flight attendants testified before Congress, claiming flight attendants are ongoing victims of sexual harassment and assault.

"Even today, we are called pet names, patted on the rear… and subjected to incidents not fit for print," testified Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, in a written statement.  

"We call on the industry to take this issue seriously."

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1 hour ago, j.k. said:

Obviously making suggestive comments or rude actions or being creepy is inexcusable.

But, there is nothing wrong with holding people to a reasonable grooming, appearance, and uniform standard..

As a statement of principle, I believe most cabin crew would agree. I understand the complaint to be addressed to deviations from that reasonable standard.

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Well CUPE  hasn't got much "ink" lately so perhaps they are running this up the pole, especially considering all the relevant action we see in the Press now days, to see if they can get someone to salute and gain public traction.

I guess I will now consider myself more enlightened as to what qualifies as "sexual harassment" because many of the issues in the above article seem to be just DIRECTION  from the employer to the employees.

So sad to see "team" efforts coming to this.......

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"CUPE's complaint follows recent changes at Air Canada including stylish new uniforms for staff."

There's your clue.  (P.S. the flight attendants never like their new uniforms).  The harassment claim is apparently based on the fact that the manager told the FAs that they should wear a colour of undergarments that would not show through the uniform (should match their skin tone and not be lime green, or fuchsia).  Now they are losing their collective minds over being told what kind of underwear to wear.

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Nope. 

This is not about reversing fault.  This is a real issue.

I don't think there is intent to harass, more like a long, slow, industry-wide drift in the wrong direction.  While one would probably see a lot of similarities between differing airlines' uniform and comportment standards, it doesn't mean things should not change.  As an example, the 'grooming standard' inadvertently got copied to the pilots, along with the 'differing' expectations for females.  It was immediately retracted, but not before leaving an indelible impression.

minirant - I cannot count the number of times I have been sitting in the back, in uniform no less, and some half-in-the-bag (usually) guy decides to tell me just what he would like to do with the flight attendant.  When I tell (him), 'you know they are really here to save your life if it comes to that', it is like talking to a (drunken) wall.  Too often the passenger doesn't even flinch, and decides to rate our FAs against some other carrier he has been on.  The fact that they think this is all some sort of OK locker room talk because I'm a guy just amazes me.

Now, I'm not exactly eye candy, but I am pretty sure these crustaceans would not dare address a pilot like that.  They tell us other nasty stuff of course, but none of it has to do with sex or their dominant role in it.  The 'panam' culture is still alive and, like mold, tenacious.

The creepy fact is that, around the world, flight attendants' visual appeal is often weighed far beyond professional grooming.  Once upon a time when we killed our dinner, that may have fit with societal norms.  But it is an anachronism that needs to die.

Yes, be professional, clean and pressed.  Be pleasant and engaging,  Be empathic when a passenger is in trouble.  But no one should ever be forced to 'strut their stuff' or wear something that sexualises them, especially in a setting where they can't leave for 10-15 hours.

Just my opinion.

Vs

Edited by Vsplat
so many typos....
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3 hours ago, seeker said:

"CUPE's complaint follows recent changes at Air Canada including stylish new uniforms for staff."

There's your clue.  (P.S. the flight attendants never like their new uniforms).  The harassment claim is apparently based on the fact that the manager told the FAs that they should wear a colour of undergarments that would not show through the uniform (should match their skin tone and not be lime green, or fuchsia).  Now they are losing their collective minds over being told what kind of underwear to wear.

That is a very dismissive remark but given an earlier comment on another thread about FA's ,perhaps consistent. If you read the first post, under the heading " sexual harassment", you will find examples of offensive conduct. You appear to be conflating the reference to uniform standards with the examples of inappropriate conduct such as stalking and "origami breasts" and using an oxygen mask to cover the genital area.....inappropriate no matter whose standard you use.

Before offering criticism of the objections taken by cabin crew to recent events, a little empathy might reasonably be expended by asking;  were I confronted by a similar demand or situation, how would I react?

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1 hour ago, UpperDeck said:

That is a very dismissive remark but given an earlier comment on another thread about FA's ,perhaps consistent. If you read the first post, under the heading " sexual harassment", you will find examples of offensive conduct. You appear to be conflating the reference to uniform standards with the examples of inappropriate conduct such as stalking and "origami breasts" and using an oxygen mask to cover the genital area.....inappropriate no matter whose standard you use.

Before offering criticism of the objections taken by cabin crew to recent events, a little empathy might reasonably be expended by asking;  were I confronted by a similar demand or situation, how would I react?

empathy or just what the "unwashed" paying public wants?

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2 hours ago, UpperDeck said:

That is a very dismissive remark but given an earlier comment on another thread about FA's ,perhaps consistent. If you read the first post, under the heading " sexual harassment", you will find examples of offensive conduct. You appear to be conflating the reference to uniform standards with the examples of inappropriate conduct such as stalking and "origami breasts" and using an oxygen mask to cover the genital area.....inappropriate no matter whose standard you use.

Before offering criticism of the objections taken by cabin crew to recent events, a little empathy might reasonably be expended by asking;  were I confronted by a similar demand or situation, how would I react?

Yeah, OK, I guess it might sound dismissive but I conducted my own straw-poll....I asked several FAs about the basis of the harassment claim and their explanation, not mine, was that it was because of the design of the new uniform, the way it was rolled out and the aforementioned memo and verbal comments about the colour of their undergarments.  Maybe they have it wrong, maybe I have it wrong but you'll have to excuse me for not accepting a CBC report of a CUPE complaint as being the full and accurate truth.

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2 hours ago, Malcolm said:

empathy or just what the "unwashed" paying public wants?

I honestly have no idea what you mean. As I am sure you know, an empathetic response is one where the observer places themselves in the place of the observed attempting to share the emotional reaction experienced. I suggested an effort to empathize would be reasonable so don't understand how that relates to the desires of the " unwashed".

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46 minutes ago, seeker said:

Yeah, OK, I guess it might sound dismissive but I conducted my own straw-poll....I asked several FAs about the basis of the harassment claim and their explanation, not mine, was that it was because of the design of the new uniform, the way it was rolled out and the aforementioned memo and verbal comments about the colour of their undergarments.  Maybe they have it wrong, maybe I have it wrong but you'll have to excuse me for not accepting a CBC report of a CUPE complaint as being the full and accurate truth.

Seeker.....understood and agreed; neither the CUPE complaint nor the CBC report are authoritive on the subject. Thank you for your response. My "own expert" does not feel that the new uniform or dress standards have focussed on the sexualization of the FA BUT she does understand how others might feel differently given the style and fit.

Lord...it's such a fine balance. Personally, I notice when a flight attendant appears " disconnected".....head down when walking the aisle and no smiles. I rate highly one who has a buoyant appearance and pleasant smile and yet......we are collectively burdened by those amongst us who see a smile as a personal invitation to intimacy.

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As with most reporting, the CBC reporting is missing the larger picture..that of the crewing levels,  the presence of the Onboard Service Managers on flights and micromanaging. The company has cut down in flt staff to minimum legal levels, at a time of record load factors, excess cabin baggage,special meals requests, lack of proper cabin grooming due to minimum turnaround times.....all of this producing a very high stress work environment for inflt staff... Especially concerning pushback delays and on time performance. The service has been timed down to the last second and there is little room for dealing with the above mentioned issues. This coupled with amenity unserviceability issues/ife/reading lights etc, and poor quality meals.

Rather than solve the problem and put more inflt staff on ( crew to load) the company has gone out and hired OBSMs to travel on the flights to “monitor and provide coaching”. Company speak for timing the service, observing inflt service, and in a lot of cases, criticizing the crew in front of passengers. To exacerbate the situation, some of these managers have not worked for an airline before let alone, as a flt attendant.

The new uniform rollout has been poorly handled (multiple launch dates, quality control issues) and now the company has produced an environment which has resulted in the human rights complaints.

The goal to become a 10 Ten world airline is the underlying factor in the current situation..rather than hire extra staff and equip them with the necessary tools to accomplish the goal, they have decided to brainwash and bully staff.

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12 hours ago, Kip Powick said:

The statement also says a manager told female flight attendants they should wear the optional dress uniform more often "in order to 'show more cleavage' to customers."

Perhaps I haven't examined the issue sufficiently, but is that even possible?

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Excerpt from Toronto Star....

Air Canada flight attendants allege they were lined up in a hallway during training and marked on their appearance — their bodies, how they wear their uniform, their makeup, their nails. They were told their eyes were “too small” and their skin colour “too white,” according to a human rights complaint recently submitted by their union.

The complaint also alleges a service manager on board a flight told a flight attendant: “We are going to bed together because I am assessing you.” A pregnant flight attendant was allegedly told by a service manager that she should be aware of how her pregnancy could cause “negative alterations of her mood” and affect her work. On two separate flights, an onboard service manager allegedly made “origami breasts with the linen and pretended to flash people” and placed an oxygen mask over his groin.

That “inappropriate” conduct is one of more than a dozen alleged instances of harassment and discrimination outlined in a 13-page complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission by the Air Canada component of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), on behalf of their members who work as cabin personnel — the majority of whom are female.......................................................................

 

The complaint was filed on March 7, with the alleged discrimination dating to Jan. 1, 2017, “primarily in Canada.

 

One has to wonder that if the comments/allegations above are painfully true, why the Union took over a year to come forward.....unless all the issues were just swept aside by management...but then again, why not come forward immediately after the incident???.......fear of loosing their job ???

..............................alleges a service manager on board a flight told a flight attendant: “We are going to bed together because I am assessing you.” ............................This allegation should have been dealt with the "next" day....

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Maybe I'm not understanding correctly, but 'stylizing' uniforms sounds like an effort to optimize the garment in favour of fit people; a subtle hint for some perhaps?

 

"Perhaps I haven't examined the issue sufficiently, but is that even possible?"

I wondered the same thing?

 

 

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While it would be nice to live in a world of immediate accountability, that's just not the case.

What follows is not specific to any one company or industry, but relevant, I think.

A million years ago in another life a team I was part of was given an in-depth course on the active processes in abuse of power situations - schoolyard, workplace, social group, etc.  Whether the harassment of an individual was based on their race, sex, appearance, or anything else that might cause them to stand out, the goal was always the same - consolidation of power for the abuser.  This is why the bystander has so much influence - silence or joining in gives power to the abuser, speaking up gives power to the abused.

One of the first steps in an abuse situation is removing power from the victim.  Making them feel isolated, subordinate,  convincing them that they won't be heard or believed is the lead card of the abuser.  It can take a long time for a victim, or group of similarly abused victims, to regain enough resolve to come forward, especially in a workplace where they are already subordinate in some ways.  As we have seen with the metoo movement, it can take decades, even after the victim has exited the situation and gone on to be successful beyond the reach of their abuser.

Of interest, those who are abused are predisposed to become abusers themselves once in a position of power.  Whenever I see a report of systemic harassment, I  wonder how many generations of this cycle have played out before things finally reached the threshold where the recipients could break through and stop it.

FWIW

Vs

 

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IMO - this is what it's really about:

The complaint alleges that the onboard service manager program “has resulted in pervasive, systemic harassment and discrimination” towards service directors and flight attendants, “which has created an unsafe work environment that has left the membership feeling threatened and intimidated.”

I have heard so frequently about the dislike of these OBSM checks. I don't blame them, I don't like being checked either - line checks, SIM checks, LOSA observers, now random line flight line checks... but that's the business, and it's not a human rights issue. The other things mentioned are one offs from the past year and a half - boneheaded behaviour or jokes or comments - NOT SYSTEMIC HARASSMENT, and have been lumped in to be able to give the core complaint (OBSM checking) footing at that tribunal.

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j.k., I can agree with you to a point.  but....

A situation that tolerates year after year of 'boneheaded jokes or comments' by those in charge, at the expense of subordinates,  is the very definition of systemic harassment..

One only has to look to see who loses in these exchanges.  I have no data of any kind - likely that will come out in the proceedings - but this has the look and feel of 'where there is smoke' to me.

I also see a big difference between our world of highly scripted and regulated checks and the rather broad, entirely commercial element of the program you quote.  I don't think I can recall any link between that program and passenger safety, so there's no real public interest argument. 

To draw a parallel, quite frankly, if a checker ever asked a female pilot to wear makeup, change the color of their underwear,  adjust their uniform to 'strut their stuff' or whatever, I am pretty sure it would end up in a very similar complaint.  It's wrong no matter which end of the aircraft you work in.

As for what is true and what is another agenda, we'll have to wait and see.  My guess is that there will be a mix of opportunistic claims, but amidst that muck will be valid cases. 

Vs

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21 minutes ago, Vsplat said:

As for what is true and what is another agenda, we'll have to wait and see.  My guess is that there will be a mix of opportunistic claims, but amidst that muck will be valid cases. 

Absolutely and perhaps.

This is a media report (which seeks to sensationalise) from CBC nonetheless, of a CUPE charge which is already worded and formed with the motivation to pressure the employer.

I'm pretty sure we are at least two levels past what really happened and without any context.

I'll wait to see the outcome before I judge it as systemic harassment.

In fact I'd be surprised if this ever gets to tribunal. They'll make a deal and it will go away...

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"Whether the harassment of an individual was based on their race, sex, appearance, or anything else that might cause them to stand out, the goal was always the same - consolidation of power for the abuser. "

Or perhaps the 'perceived' abuse is an attempt to guide the complainant in the direction of 'conformity' with the group's overall 'uniform' appearance?

 

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"If left unchecked, sexual harassment can limit a person’s ability to earn a living, get housing, get an education, feel safe and secure, and otherwise take part fully in society. Organizations that do not take steps to prevent sexual harassment from taking place can incur major costs in decreased productivity, low morale, increased absenteeism and health care costs, and potential legal expenses."

If Ann dresses 'hot' and struts back and forth through the office in front of her male colleagues all day every day, what would block her from claiming the men are 'leering' and making her feel uncomfortable?  Couldn't the HRC definition of sexual harassment apply to her as well, or does she get a pass and is free to dress and act the way she chooses, men be damned?

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