By Allison Lampert
MONTREAL (Reuters) - Bombardier Inc workers on a key program for the Canadian business jet maker will decide on Wednesday whether to accept a new contract offer or walk off the job.
The Montreal-based company's labor dispute is one of several the aviation and aerospace sectors are grappling with globally just as travel demand rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring prices push unions to demand bigger pay rises.
Rejection of the deal offering pay hikes of up to 18.5% over five years would lead to a general strike by the 1,800 workers, who mostly produce Bombardier's popular Challenger business jets that accounted for a third of the company's deliveries in 2021.
Companies from Bombardier to some European airlines are seeing wage disputes with workers amid rising inflation, adding to growing pressure on costs and discontent as the summer travel season kicks off.
In the United States, pilots at almost all the major carriers are protesting, demanding higher pay and contract improvements due to "fatiguing" schedules.
Aviation was battered during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 2.3 million jobs lost globally according to some estimates, worsening existing staffing shortages. While workers are coming back, it is giving staff like pilots clout during talks.
"Labor has a lot of power right now and they have inflation in their own lives," said Richard Aboulafia, managing director at AeroDynamic Advisory.
"And in the case of aviation, a lot of them were recently fired or furloughed so they're not feeling a lot of loyalty."
Cabin crew from low cost carrier Ryanair in Spain and Portugal plan to strike on Friday, and work stoppages are expected elsewhere in Europe.
Countries around the world are grappling with high inflation, as hot demand runs up against supply chain constraints and Russia's invasion of Ukraine drives commodity prices sharply higher.
Aboulafia said aerospace sectors like defence and cargo can more easily pass rising costs on to customers. Airlines are more vulnerable as they risk losing demand as fares rise.
"My big fear in all of this is that you could see kind of a crowding out where defense gets used to paying more and that impacts commercial because they'll have a harder time matching," Aboulafia said.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which reached a deal in April with "historic pay" increases for 5,000 Lockheed Martin Corp workers in Fort Worth, Texas, has started talks with Boeing Co.'s defense unit.
The union and Bombardier would not discuss details about the offer ahead of the vote. Bombardier stock dropped 12% this week in Toronto trading.
The union has also been negotiating a new contract for Southwest Airlines Co.'s customer service agents after twice reaching tentative agreement. The last agreement, which was voted down by Southwest workers in May, included a 15% increase in pay over three years and signing bonus.
(Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago, editing by Deepa Babington)