Will They Or Won’t They?

Friday, May 19 could be a very bad day for travel advisors and their customers after the union representing WestJet’s and Swoop’s 1,700 pilots issued a 72-hour strike notice to WestJet management and the government and WestJet responded by issuing a lockout notice to the union.

Bottomline here … a work stoppage could occur as early as Fri., May 19, 2023, at 3 a.m. MT.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) – which represents WestJet and Swoop pilots – said that it could have filed the strike notice this past weekend, but agreed to extend negotiations in order to allow enough time to review additional proposals put forth by both parties.

However, ALPA said that 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.

WestJet Group, Chief Executive Officer, Alexis von Hoensbroech, said that: “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.”

He continued: “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.”

In its statement, WestJet emphasized that issuing [the lockout] notice does not mean a work stoppage will occur.

However, in the coming days, the WestJet Group will take all necessary actions to manage the impacts as much as possible, including:

  • Beginning preparations to operate a reduced schedule – unfortunately, this will be a significant reduction from WestJet and Swoop’s current networks.
  • Proactively managing changes and cancellations, to ensure the ability to communicate with guests in advance of changes.
  • Providing flexible change and cancel options for those who wish to make alternate arrangements.

Throughout negotiations, the statement continues, the WestJet Group has brought forward a generous contract that if agreed to will make its first officers and captains the highest paid narrow-body pilots in Canada, with a significant advantage over the next best paying Canadian airline.

Furthermore, the company said, the proposed contract makes generous advancements to address the concerns of WestJet and Swoop pilots surrounding job security and scope. Despite efforts to be reasonable and provide significant improvements to the current contract, the union maintains its expectation of closing in towards U.S.–like wages, despite living and working in Canada.

This expectation is not reasonable and is impeding the WestJet Group’s ability to reach an agreement in advance of the upcoming long weekend.

In issuing its 72-hour strike notice, Capt. Bernard Lewall, chair of the WestJet ALPA Master Executive Council (MEC), pointed out: “After nine months of negotiating, management still fails to understand today’s labour market conditions, leading to a mass exodus of our pilots in search of better work opportunities, and more will follow if this agreement does not meet our pilots’ needs.”

Lewall continued: “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.”

The union’s statement indicated that as of 3:00 a.m. ET on May 19, the WestJet pilots plan to begin lawful job action, which could include grounding all aircraft and effectively shutting down operations.

Said Lewall: “Flight disruptions are never an ideal outcome, especially given the tremendous support our guests have shown us, and we want to continue being a major contributor to our company’s success by helping WestJet realize its growth strategy. However, 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.”

WestJet Group’s von Hoensbroech said: “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.”

Both parties remain at the bargaining table as negotiations continue.

ALPA’s Lewall said: “We are hopeful today’s strike notice filing will provide management with the incentive to recognize just how dire the situation is and reach an agreement with us. That’s why we will continue to make our negotiators available 24/7 during the remainder of the 72-hour strike notice period.”

In its statement, WestJet Group made it clear that should flight delays or cancellations occur, impacted guests will be refunded or re-accommodated, as applicable.

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