WestJet regional pilots, mechanics picket at Calgary airport as strike deadline nears

Negotiations for both groups of workers share the same drop-dead date of April 17, meaning they could end up striking on the same day.

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WestJet regional pilots and mechanics picketed outside Calgary International Airport on Friday afternoon as negotiations with the airline’s executive leadership drag toward a potential mid-April strike.

Pilots for WestJet Encore, the airline’s regional arm serving small communities, are seeking 15- to 30-per-cent wage increases and better career progression toward WestJet’s mainlines.

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While both sides have reached a handful of tentative agreements in recent months, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and WestJet remain far apart on several key issues, said Carin Kenny, chair of the WestJet Encore master executive council.

“There’s been some progress . . . but not on the major stuff,” Kenny said Friday.

Standing outside the airport as pickets milled behind, WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said coming to an agreement will take some time but didn’t express concern about a potential strike from either Encore pilots or mechanics.

“We are here to come up with a solution that works for both sides, and contracts only go if they work for both sides. They never go if they only work for one side, and that’s why we need to find a middle ground,” said von Hoensbroech.

Tim Perry, ALPA president, said WestJet management said negotiations could be further along.

“They’ve been playing this slowly,” Perry said.

WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech
WestJet CEO Alex von Hoensbroech spoke to media as the airline’s mechanics picket behind him at the Calgary International Airport on Friday, March 22, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

WestJet mechanics negotiating first collective agreement with company

Meanwhile, WestJet mechanics, represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), are also in the middle of reaching their first collective bargaining agreement with WestJet management.

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Encore pilots and WestJet’s mechanics’ negotiations share the same drop-dead date of April 17, meaning the two could end up striking on the same day. An AMFA strike would have major effects across WestJet’s entire airline, including Sunwing Airlines, because its mechanics service its entire fleet.

Ian Evershed, airline representative for AMFA, said planes need to be serviced every 72 hours, meaning a mechanic strike would have immediate effects across WestJet’s network. While the conciliation period ends March 26, that period could be extended.

Evershed didn’t say what WestJet mechanics are seeking in the contract, but said negotiations are primarily focused on wages.

Because it will be WestJet’s first collective agreement with mechanics, von Hoensbroech said negotiations are taking longer they are with Encore pilots.

“We are basically starting from zero, and this naturally takes a bit longer because you need to grind through everything and create paragraphs for every single thing,” the WestJet CEO said.

Evershed said there’s “a lot of pieces at play.”

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“There’s a lot of work still to be done in a very short time. That’s a lot to get through,” he said.

The negotiations come on the heels of last summer’s bargaining with WestJet’s mainline pilots, resolved at the 11th hour and narrowly avoiding the first strike in the Calgary-based company’s history.

“We all hope (we avoid) travel disruptions. We don’t want passengers to have any disruptions,” Perry said.

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