WestJet pilots issue 72-hour strike notice

The union representing WestJet pilots says its 1,600 members could walk off the job Friday morning if a new deal isn’t reached by their deadline.

Just ahead of May long weekend, the union says the strike “could include grounding all aircraft and effectively shutting down operations.”

The WestJet Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) says its negotiating committee is available 24-7 to reach a deal with the company.

In April, the ALPA said 93 per cent of its members voted in favour of a strike, citing the need for better pay, scheduling, and job protection.

Over the past week, it provided steady bargaining updates on Twitter, with Monday’s update eventually announcing strike notice.

In a release last week, WestJet ALPA Chair Bernard Lewall said “some 340 pilots” had left the company over the past year and a half, with most of them opting to work for other airlines.

“WestJet pilots will withdraw our services to secure a contract that will fix many of the airline’s labour problems and make it a career destination for pilots once again,” Lewall said in ALPA’s Monday night release.

The airline countered that its pilots are among the best paid in Canada, and that a contract on par with those recently secured by some US pilot groups would be financially unworkable, and put the company’s future at risk.

The union says, although progress was made on items outside of costs and wages, it hasn’t been able to come to an agreement with the employer.

In response to ALPA’s strike notice, WestJet says it will be taking “all necessary actions” to manage negotiation-related impacts.

The airline says it will start working on a reduced schedule for both WestJet and Swoop flights, adding it will work with guests on cancellations, refunds, and alternate flight arrangements.

“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,” WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said in a release.

“We truly value the work and contributions of our pilots. We believe with a commitment from both parties, an agreement is achievable and are committed to offering pilots a competitive collective agreement with meaningful improvements for the Canadian market, whilst remaining competitive at the same time.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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