WestJet pilots on Monday issued a 72-hour strike notice to the airline’s management and the federal government, starting a final countdown for walkouts as contract talks drag on.
The notice amplifies questions about what a strike could mean for Canadians with flights booked through the airline.
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents some 1,600 flight crew at WestJet and subsidiary Swoop, said in a statement it was poised to issue the notice over the weekend but delayed doing so to allow negotiations to continue.
The delay gave both sides time to review additional proposals, the union added.
“While progress was made on most non-cost items, both sides have been unable to reach an agreement that will serve the best interests of all parties involved,” the statement said.
Pilots are now poised to begin strike action at 3 a.m. ET (1 a.m. MT) Friday unless a deal is reached, the union said.
What would a WestJet pilot strike mean for travellers?
But Capt. Bernard Lewall, who chairs the union’s WestJet contingent, said in the statement the airline’s management “still fails to understand today’s labour market conditions” that have led pilots to seek better employment conditions elsewhere.
“Without the economic and job security improvements our pilots require, WestJet will be parking planes, as they will not have enough pilots to operate them or accomplish its own growth strategy,” Lewall said.
The union warned job action could include grounding all WestJet-owned aircraft and “effectively shutting down operations.”
The workers’ issues revolve around job protection, pay and scheduling. The union claims every 18 hours on average, WestJet pilots are leaving the airline for its competitors.
WestJet pilots prepare for possible strike action
WestJet says there have been three times more pilot hires than resignations at its mainline operation this year.
In a statement this week, the Calgary-based airline said its pilots are among the best paid in Canada, but that a contract on par with those recently secured by some U.S. pilot groups would be financially unworkable and put the company’s future at risk.
“This expectation is not reasonable and is impeding the WestJet Group’s ability to reach an agreement in advance of the upcoming long weekend.,” the company said in a statement Monday night.
In response to the strike notice, the airline issued lockout notice.
“The decision to issue a lockout notice, in response to the actions taken by the union today, was not one that was made lightly, and we sincerely regret the inconvenience and uncertainty this continues to cause for our guests,” WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said in a statement.
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“It is our responsibility to ensure the safety and complete control of our network at all times, to minimize the risk of stranding our guests, our crews and our aircraft. Our commitment and priority remains at the bargaining table, where we will continue to work around the clock to come to a reasonable agreement as soon as possible, in an effort to prevent labour action.”
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WestJet said issuing notice does not mean a work stoppage will occur.
However, in the coming days, it said it’d begin taking action to minimize the possible impact by beginning preparations to operate a reduced schedule with fewer Westjet and Swoop flights, proactively managing changes and cancellations and “providing flexible change and cancel options for those who wish to make alternate arrangements.”
Should flight delays or cancellations occur, the airline said “impacted guests will be refunded or reaccommodated, as applicable.”
For people who booked directly with WestJet or Swoop, changes to existing travel will be directly communicated via email.
Those who booked through a travel agent or online via a third party are asked to contact them directly.
WestJet pilots poised to walk off the job over pay dispute
— With files from Karen Bartko, Motorcycle accident toronto today
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