Air Canada employee shocked to be laid off after 32 years because he is legally blind

Sean Fitzgibbon is one of thousands of Air Canada employees who has lost his job since COVID-19 walloped the travel industry.

The Pointe-Saint-Charles resident had worked for the airline company for more than three decades, but in June he received a letter from Air Canada saying it could no longer accommodate his medical condition.

Fitzgibbon, who was a stock keeper, was declared legally blind about seven years ago.

“Most likely I was laid off because I can’t do what an ordinary storeman can do,” said Fitzgibbon.

According to Air Canada, stock-keeping is a multi-faceted job that involves shipping, receiving and warehousing of materials and parts. A stock keeper may, for example, retrieve a part from storage and deliver it to the hangar to be installed in a plane.

Despite having a visual impairment, Fitzgibbon was still able to do his job, with a magnifying glass at first, and as his condition worsened, he moved up to more advanced technology to help him see.

However, he was unable to drive trucks or operate machinery.

Despite those limitations, he thought his seniority would protect him when he heard Air Canada was beginning to lay off employees this spring due to the pandemic.

“I know business is a harsh world,” said Fitzgibbon. “But it seemed to me there were two lists: the normal list and the disability list. I was surprised no other accommodation could be made.”

Union says seniority should have been considered

Air Canada union spokesperson Serge Gélinas says Fitzgibbon has a lot of seniority and there are other jobs he could have done.

Serge Gélinas, an Air Canada union representative, says Sean Fitzgibbon should have been protected by his seniority. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

He said it is “unbelievable and unreal” that Fitzgibbon was let go after working for the company since 1988.

“Normally he should not have been laid off,” said Gélinas. “But because he is blind, Air Canada laid him off.”

Air Canada says it tried to accommodate

In a statement to CBC News, Air Canada spokesperson Pascale Déry said the company is unable to provide Fitzgibbon with a job that’s suitable and that he can perform safely in a time when the workforce has been significantly reduced.

Déry says it even looked at jobs that aren’t normally performed by members of his union, and she points out that the union was involved in the process from the beginning in Fitzgibbon’s case.

Déry says a union executive even commended the way Air Canada handled Fitzgibbon’s case.

“We understand his disappointment, but in the context of this massive downsizing affecting 20,000 people there is no other option at present,” said Déry.

“As we also told him, should the situation change and a suitable role be found, we would be able to accommodate him.”

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