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Union says WestJet pilots issue 72-hour strike notice, plan job action Friday

Union represents some 1,600 flight crew at WestJet and subsidiary Swoop
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Members of the Air Line Pilots Association demonstrate amid contract negotiations outside the WestJet headquarters in Calgary, Alta., Friday, March 31, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

WestJet pilots have issued a 72-hour strike notice to the company and the government, according to the union that represents them, and they warn the airline could be shut down right before the May long weekend.

The Air Line Pilots Association said in a news release late Monday that pilots plan to begin lawful job action early Friday morning, which the release said “could include grounding all aircraft and effectively shutting down operations.”

“Flight disruptions are never an ideal outcome, especially given the tremendous support our guests have shown us, and we want to continue being a major contributor to our company’s success by helping WestJet realize its growth strategy,” Bernard Lewall, who heads the union’s WestJet contingent, said in the news release.

“However, WestJet pilots will withdraw our services to secure a contract that will fix many of the airline’s labour problems and make it a career destination for pilots once again.”

The WestJet Group responded with a lockout notice, saying a work stoppage could occur as early as Friday at 3 a.m. MDT.

“The decision to issue a lockout notice, in response to the actions taken by the union today, was not one that was made lightly, and we sincerely regret the inconvenience and uncertainty this continues to cause for our guests,” WestJet Group CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said in a statement.

The statement noted the lockout notice does not mean a work stoppage will occur, and that both parties remain at the bargaining table. But it said the company would “begin preparations to operate a reduced schedule” and warned it would be “a significant reduction from WestJet and Swoop’s current networks.”

WestJet said guests impacted by flight delays or cancellations will be refunded or re-accommodated as applicable.

The union represents some 1,600 flight crew at WestJet and subsidiary Swoop, and had warned Friday that a walkout could come as early as this week as talks dragged on.

Lewall said last week that the workers’ issues revolve around job protection, pay and scheduling, with some 340 pilots leaving the carrier over the past year and a half — mostly to other airlines.

In a statement last week, the Calgary-based airline said its pilots are among the best paid in Canada, but that a contract on par with those recently secured by some U.S. pilot groups would be financially unworkable and put the company’s future at risk.

The union said in its news release it could have filed the strike notice over the weekend, but in a bid to keep the airline operating, it agreed to extend negotiations.

The union noted that while progress was made on most non-cost items, both sides have been unable to reach an agreement.

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