WestJet mechanics go on strike, airline says it expects 'severe' travel disruptions

WestJet said in a statement that it is ‘outraged’ and severe travel disruption should be expected if the strike isn’t called off immediately

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WestJet mechanics went on strike Friday evening after weeks of contentious negotiations, defying the federal government’s intervention which put the airline and plane mechanics into binding arbitration.

WestJet said in a Friday statement the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) had notified it that the union began strike action on Friday at 5:30 p.m.

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The Calgary-based airline said it expects “severe” travel disruptions if the strike isn’t called off immediately, saying a methodical network takedown can no longer happen.

The strike comes at the beginning of a busy Canada Day long weekend, kicking off the summer travel season.

Given arbitration has been ordered, a strike has no leverage on the arbitration’s outcome, so it is pure retaliation of a disappointed union,” said Diedrik Pen, president of WestJet.

“We are extremely outraged at these actions and will hold AMFA 100 per cent accountable for the unnecessary stress and costs incurred as a result.” 

WestJet is asking travellers to check the status of their flight this weekend before leaving for the airport.

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AMFA said employees are eager to return to work but “the timeline for that is very much in the hands of WestJet Management.”

The (aircraft maintenance engineers) were hopeful this action would be unnecessary but the airline’s unwillingness to negotiate with the union made the strike inevitable,” AMFA wrote in its statement. It said the union is in dialogue with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) and WestJet to resolve the impasse.

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In an update to members obtained by The Canadian Press, the union negotiating committee cited the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ protection of collective action.

It also said the industrial relations board had not expressly barred strikes and lockouts while the tribunal undertook arbitration following Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan’s directive.

“Because the referral by the minister was silent on the issue, AMFA members’ constitutional right to strike must prevail,” the union committee claimed.

“Having had no indication that the board would revoke AMFA’s strike notice, AMFA directed its members to cease all work.”

The federal government on Thursday directed the two parties into binding arbitration to resolve their dispute, a move that appeared all but certain to avoid a work stoppage that could disrupt flights for hundreds of thousands of travellers.

In a late-Thursday social media post, O’Regan said he was invoking his authority under the Canada Labour Code to resolve the impasse between the two sides as the clock ticked down toward a Friday evening deadline.

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WestJet has requested intervention from O’Regan and the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB).

The CIRB could opt not to suspend the right to a work stoppage as it hammers out a contract, but precedent suggests that outcome is unlikely.

The AMFA first served the carrier with a 72-hour strike notice June 17, prompting WestJet to cancel nearly 50 flights last week before both sides agreed to resume negotiations. The second strike notice came Tuesday amid tense negotiations over a first collective agreement between WestJet and some 680 maintenance engineers.

Union members voted overwhelmingly to reject a tentative deal earlier this month and opposed WestJet’s request for intervention by the country’s labour tribunal — a submission that triggered the union’s initial strike threat.

— Files from The Canadian Press

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