With less than a week before the end of conciliation, a majority of WestJet pilots on Thursday (April 18) voted in favour of strike action, according to an update shared by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).
With 95 per cent of pilots voting, an overwhelming 93 per cent voted to strike if needed, the association stated in a press release.
"This vote is a clear sign that WestJet pilots remain committed to securing a North American industry-standard contract," the ALPA stated.
Such a contract, the ALPA said, "will go a long way" toward fixing WestJet’s recruitment and retention issues, which it says are largely due to the airline trying to reduce costs by driving down wages and "refusing to address scheduling concerns and other poor working conditions," including job security for members "especially given WestJet’s acquisition of Sunwing."
The association, which represents some 1,600 WestJet pilots, says it could launch a strike as early as the week leading up to the May long weekend, which typically marks the beginning of the busy summer travel season.
“On average, every 18 hours a WestJet Group pilot turns in their wings for a better career,” stated Capt. Bernard Lewall, chair of the ALPA WestJet Master Executive Council. “We are hopeful that today’s strong strike vote result and the excellent show of unity displayed during our informational picket last month incentivize management to reach an agreement with us—an agreement that will provide job security and career progression for our pilots and, most importantly, stability to the airline and our passengers.”
Last month, WestJet said the threat of a strike is a common tactic in the negotiation process.
“However, that does not mean a strike will occur. WestJet is committed to this process and will continue to work with ALPA to reach a collective agreement that provides value to our current and future pilots, is sustainable for the company and avoids disruption to our guests,'' airline spokeswoman Madison Kruger told CP at the time.
While flight disruptions are never an ideal outcome for pilots or passengers, "WestJet pilots are prepared for any outcome," the ALPA said, noting a $2 million (USD) grant from its "union’s war-chest," which was unanimously authorized by ALPA’s Executive Board.
“Our goal is to avoid a strike; however, WestJet fails to recognize the value and the expertise we bring to our airline and the pride we have in transporting our guests safely to their destinations every day,” stated Lewall. “We want to continue being a major contributor to WestJet’s success and help our airline achieve its growth strategy, but if management leaves us no other option, we will be ready to take job action only if forced.”
The pilots will be in a legal position to commence job action May 16. However, the ALPA said it remains committed to the bargaining process and will make their negotiators available during the 21-day cooling-off period, which is set to expire May 13.
If no agreement has been reached at that time, the ALPA will be able to file a 72-hour strike notice.
WestJet issues statement
The WestJet Group on Tuesday issued the following statement in response to the ALPA's announcement:
"A strike authorization vote is a common step by unions in context of the overall labour negotiation process and does not mean a strike will occur," said Diederik Pen, WestJet Group chief operating officer.
"We remain unwaveringly committed to achieving an agreement that is competitive within Canada's airline industry and ensures we have a long-term sustainable future so that we can continue to operate critical air service for millions of Canadians, while providing jobs for thousands at the WestJet Group."
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