Regional WestJet pilots and mechanics picket as strike deadline approaches

Negotiations for both groups of workers share the same deadline of April 17, meaning they could end up on strike on the same day.

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WestJet regional pilots and mechanics protested outside Calgary International Airport on Friday afternoon as negotiations with the airline’s executive leadership moved closer to a possible strike in mid-April.

Pilots at WestJet Encore, the airline’s regional arm that serves small communities, are seeking pay increases of 15 to 30 percent and better career progression to 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, chairwoman of WestJet Encore’s chief executive board.

“There has been some progress. . . but not in the most important things,” Kenny said Friday.

Standing outside the airport as pickets gathered behind, WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said reaching a deal will take some time, but he expressed no concern about a possible strike by Encore pilots or mechanics.

“We are here to find a solution that works for both parties, and contracts only work if they work for both parties. They never leave if they only work for one side, and that is why we need to find a middle ground,” said von Hoensbroech.

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

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

Alexis von Hoensbroech, CEO of WestJet
WestJet CEO Alex von Hoensbroech speaks to media as airline mechanics protest behind him at Calgary International Airport on Friday, March 22, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

WestJet mechanics negotiate the first collective agreement with the company

Meanwhile, WestJet’s chief mechanics, represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), are also close to reaching their first collective bargaining agreement with WestJet management.

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Negotiations between Encore pilots and WestJet mechanics share the same deadline of April 17, meaning the two could end up on strike on the same day. An AMFA strike would have significant effects across WestJet’s entire airline, including Sunwing Airlines, because its mechanics service its entire fleet.

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

Evershed did not say what WestJet mechanics are looking for 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 than with Encore pilots.

“We are basically starting from scratch and naturally this takes a little longer because you need to go through everything and create paragraphs for everything,” said the WestJet CEO.

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

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“There is still a lot of work to do in a very short time. There is a lot to overcome,” she stated.

The talks come on the heels of last summer’s negotiations with WestJet’s top pilots, resolved at the last minute and narrowly avoiding the first strike in the Calgary-based company’s history.

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

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