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WestJet Cancels Flights as Aircraft Mechanics Prepare for Strike

TL;DR intro

  • Flight Cancellations:WestJet cancels 40 flights impacting 6,500 passengers due to impending mechanics' strike.
  • Strike Notice:Mechanics union issued a 72-hour strike notice, rejecting a tentative agreement.
  • Arbitration Sought:WestJet seeks arbitration with the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

On June 19, WestJet Airlines began cancelling and consolidating flights in preparation for a strike by its aircraft maintenance engineers and other technical operations employees. The strike notice, issued by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, set the potential strike to begin by 9 p.m. ET on Thursday.

WestJet announced that 40 flights, affecting 6,500 customers, would be cancelled over June 18-19. The carrier is seeking intervention from the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) under the Canada Labour Code to resolve the dispute.

“We are immensely disheartened that we are in a position where we must activate our contingency plan and begin parking aircraft, as a result of the strike notice served by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association,” said WestJet president Diederik Pen. “We deeply regret the disruption this will have on the travel plans of our guests, communities, and businesses that rely on our critical air service.”

Union Demands and Negotiations

The union issued a 72-hour strike notice on Tuesday after 97.5% of its members rejected a tentative deal with the airline. The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association is pushing for a pay increase to narrow the earnings gap between WestJet employees and their higher-paid counterparts in the United States.

“WestJet now refuses to negotiate despite previous commitments by several company executives that bargaining would continue through this week,” the union stated.

WestJet has requested that negotiations shift to the CIRB, which would arbitrate the terms of an agreement. This move is seen by the union as a tactic that could undermine their efforts to secure what they describe as an “industry-changing contract.”

“Following the membership's nearly unanimous decision to reject a generous tentative agreement that would have made our Aircraft Maintenance Engineers the highest paid in the country, with a take-home pay increase of 30 to 40 percent in the first year of the proposed agreement, it is clear that the bargaining process has broken down,” Pen explained.

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Impact on Operations and Industry

The decision to cancel flights comes as WestJet competes with rival Air Canada to meet the demands of its employees. WestJet Encore, a regional airline operated by WestJet, also faces similar challenges. The company, owned by Onex Corp, has been working to bridge the earnings gap between its staff and those of higher-paid peers in the U.S.

In the broader context of the airline industry, labor disputes such as this highlight ongoing challenges in balancing operational efficiency with fair labor practices. The recent disruptions follow a series of labor negotiations and strikes within the aviation sector, reflecting the pressures on airlines to address workforce demands amid economic fluctuations and competitive pressures.

WestJet's attempt to involve the CIRB in the negotiation process underscores the complexities of labor relations in the airline industry. The outcome of these negotiations could set a precedent for future labor agreements and influence industry standards.

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As the situation unfolds, the potential strike by WestJet's aircraft maintenance engineers highlights the delicate balance between employee demands and company operations. The airline's proactive cancellations and call for arbitration indicate a strategic approach to mitigate disruption while seeking a resolution.

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