WestJet pilots could walk off the job next month after strike authorized

Apr 18 2023, 7:34 pm

Canadians could experience some turbulence with travel plans after WestJet pilots voted overwhelmingly in support of a job strike next month.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union representing WestJet pilots, says 93% voted in favour of a strike if contract negotiations don’t reach an agreement before the Victoria Day long weekend (May 20 to 22).

“Our goal is to avoid a strike; however, WestJet fails to recognize the value and the expertise we bring to our airline and the pride we have in transporting our guests safely to their destinations every day,” said Capt. Bernard Lewall, chair of the ALPA WestJet master executive council, in a statement.

“We want to continue being a major contributor to WestJet’s success and help our airline achieve its growth strategy, but if management leaves us no other option, we will be ready to take job action only if forced.”

Approximately 1,600 WestJet pilots participated in the strike action vote earlier this month.

Negotiations between the union and the airline have been ongoing for the past six months and are expected to end on April 24. If negotiations aren’t extended, a statutory 21-day cooling-off period will begin and expire on May 13.

If an agreement still hasn’t been reached by that time, the ALPA says it’ll file a 72-hour strike notice. WestJet pilots will legally be allowed to walk off the job starting May 16.

The ALPA says the issues on the table for pilots include recruitment and retention, which it says are due to the airline’s attempts to reduce costs by lowering wages and concerns over scheduling and poor working conditions.

“WestJet, despite repeatedly touting its growth strategy, is hemorrhaging around 30 pilots per month and is on track to lose up to 20 percent of its experienced pilot work force within the next year,” reads the ALPA statement.

The union addressed how travellers might be affected if pilots do vote for a strike.

“While flight disruptions are never an ideal outcome for pilots or passengers, WestJet pilots are prepared for any outcome, thanks in large part to a $2 million (USD) grant from our union’s war-chest, which was unanimously authorized by ALPA’s Executive Board,” reads the statement.

WestJet released a statement on Tuesday in response to the strike being authorized.

“A strike authorization vote is a common step by unions in context of the overall labour negotiation process and does not mean a strike will occur,” said the airline’s chief operating officer Diederik Pen.

This isn’t the first time WestJet employees have had to vote for strike authorization. Last summer, the union representing over 700 airline employees in Vancouver and Calgary voted in favour of a strike if contract negotiations failed.

Isabelle DoctoIsabelle Docto

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