Pax Global Media
A potential pilot strike at WestJet is making headlines as the union that represents the airline’s pilots reveals that contract negotiations have been unproductive and that Ottawa may soon need to intervene.
As reported by the Canadian Press, ALPA Canada, which represents roughly 1,800 pilots at WestJet and low-cost carrier Swoop, has been negotiating unsuccessfully with WestJet since September.
"We're getting very close, in our opinion, to being at an impasse," Bernie Lewall, chair of the union's WestJet Pilots Association, was quoted as saying. "I think it is very likely that we're going to enter conciliation soon — as far as a strike, I can't say."
Wages, scheduling concerns as well as a desire to see all pilots that fly WestJet planes receive "equal pay for equal work" are at the centre of the talks. (Currently, pilots that fly with Swoop are paid less).
Other factors are slowing down progress. There’s also the outcome of WestJet’s pending acquisition of Sunwing, which the union says will create another class of pilots on a different pay scale.
"We could get into a position where we potentially could have three airlines under the WestJet group of companies, all flying the same aircraft type for different wages and working conditions," Lewall told CP.
"We just see that as an attempt by management to work around the current WestJet pilots' contract."
WestJet says it remains focused on working with ALPA to reach an agreement.
The pilots' first union contract, which expired at the end of 2022, was the result of an arbitrated settlement reached in 2018 – however, it appears pilots were unhappy with that first contract.
The talks come as Canada’s aviation sector continues to recover from the operational impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a separate incident, WestJet, last summer, faced potential strike action after the union that represents baggage service agents, customer service agents and guest services – in a fight for higher pay – threatened to walk off the job.
Strike action at Calgary and Vancouver airports was averted, however, as all parties reached a tentative first collective agreement, avoiding any service interruptions.
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