WestJet and its pilots reach 11th-hour deal to avoid strike

WestJet and its pilots reach 11th-hour deal to avoid strike

Airline WestJet and its pilots have reached a last-minute deal, averting a strike ahead of the May long weekend, according to the union.

A news release from the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) late Thursday night said members voted to approve an agreement-in-principle with WestJet management, following more than nine months of negotiations on a new pilot contract.

Just after 12 a.m. MT, the Calgary-based airline confirmed the two sides had reached a tentative agreement on the second collective bargaining agreement between the organizations.

Some 1,800 pilots at WestJet and Swoop had been poised to walk off the job overnight Friday after the ALPA served a strike notice Monday.

Already the airline had cancelled hundreds of flights in anticipation of its fleet being grounded.

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The shutdown affected dozens of routes within Canada and to the U.S. and overseas, while flights at the WestJet Encore regional service and the WestJet-owned Sunwing Airlines were unaffected.

The airline had grounded the bulk of its fleet Thursday, including for its Swoop subsidiary, parking their 130 planes at airports from Vancouver to Halifax and leaving thousands of travellers in limbo across the country.

WestJet said Friday morning it was re-starting operations as quickly and efficiently as possible, however the full resumption of operations will take time.

“Guests remain encouraged to continue to check the status of their flights before heading to the airport,” the airline said.

A membership vote on the agreement will begin in the coming days, the two sides said.

“After months of tough negotiations with management, we are pleased to announce an agreement-in-principle that goes a long way to recognizing the value and expertise we bring to our airline every day,” said Capt. Bernard Lewall, chair of the WestJet ALPA Master Executive Council (MEC).

“This contract will also help solve many of WestJet’s pilot attraction and retention issues, benefiting everyone involved from our company to our passengers and fellow employees.”

The union said WestJet pilots have fallen behind their North American counterparts in recent years with regard to critical contract provisions, including job protections, career advancement, compensation, and scheduling flexibility.

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The airline said it was pleased to have reached a tentative agreement that is “industry-leading within Canada.”

“We appreciate we were able to arrive at a deal, however, recognize the impact on our guests and we sincerely appreciate their patience during this time,” WestJet Group chief executive officer Alexis von Hoensbroech said in a statement.

“We are pleased to now return our focus to providing friendly, reliable and affordable air service to Canadians for years to come.”

The WestJet ALPA leaders and airline both said they believe the contract provides better job security, enhanced compensation, and more flexible schedules to allow for a better work/life balance.

“When I started at WestJet 18 years ago, it was seen as a career destination,” Lewall said in a statement.

“For the past several years, we have unfortunately been nothing more than a training ground for pilots looking to leave for better opportunities.

“This contract will change that and make WestJet a career destination once again.”

Throughout negotiations, the union said WestJet management repeatedly spoke to its growth strategy.

“If ratified, the pilots will send a strong message that they remain committed to being a major contributor to WestJet’s success and help the company recognize its growth strategy,” the union said.

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— With files from The Canadian Press

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