WestJet pilots to launch strike authorization vote as negotiations fizzle

The union representing WestJet’s pilots will begin a strike approval vote on Monday amid prolonged contract negotiations with management, the Airline Pilots Association said Friday.

Bernard Lewall, head of ALPA Canada’s WestJet unit, said the 1,600 members were “frustrated” after six months of negotiations with the company, claiming they weren’t seriously engaged.

In a telephone interview from Calgary, LeWall said the problem had to do with wages, schedules and working conditions at WestJet and its discount subsidiary Swoop, with 39 pilots choosing to move to other airlines last month alone. Told.

“WestJet used to be a place where young pilots wanted to come and work. he said.

“We want to show that the company needs to treat pilots better.”

WestJet said the threat of a strike was “a common and expected tactic” in the negotiation process.

“But that doesn’t mean there will be a strike. WestJet is committed to this process and will continue to work with ALPA to ensure it delivers value to current and future pilots, is sustainable for the company, and is disruptive to guests. We plan to reach a collective bargaining agreement that will avoid ,” spokeswoman Madison Kruger said in an email.

Lewall said their wages are still well below industry standards in North America. Meanwhile, pilots are being asked to spend more time away from home. “We are already half a month away from our families.”

If successful, a 15-day approval vote would prepare the negotiating team to strike after a three-week “cooling-off period,” which would begin after the ongoing federal arbitration process concludes on April 24. will be

That means unions could go on strike or lockout by the May long weekend, when the summer travel season traditionally begins.

The strike order vote came amid a severe pilot shortage as airlines struggle to rebuild revenues severely dented by the pandemic.

One of the obstacles, says Lewall, is “equal pay for equal work.”

Currently, pilots flying under the Swoop flag are paid less than those flying with WestJet. With its acquisition of leisure airline Sunwing, approved by the federal government on March 10, Lewall said unions were concerned that this could lead to the creation of yet another class of pilots with different pay scales. I said yes.

“We could be in a place where there are basically three airlines within WestJet, all operating the same aircraft with different wages and different terms,” he said.

With a proposed Sunwing acquisition last March, Calgary-based WestJet will bolster its vacation package offerings by adding tour operators to its fleet, but the two brands will be sold separately. will be

The acquisition, which is set to close in the coming weeks, marks a major consolidation in the Canadian aviation market following a turbulent year in travel.

WestJet pilots first unionized in May 2017, a major shift in the culture of the famous non-union airline.

Since then, other employee groups at the company have also unionized, including flight attendants and certain airport employees.

The pilot’s first union contract, which expired late last year, was the result of reaching arbitration in 2018. The deal avoided a threatened strike as WestJet pilots voted in favor of the hiring action after contract negotiations broke down.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published on March 31, 2023.

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