WestJet is telling its pilots it was offering “significant” wage increases that would make them among the highest paid workers in Canada before the pilots’ union issued notice for a strike that could begin this week, Global News has learned.
But the union says the “cherry-picked” six-figure salaries included in internal communications do not represent the full scope of the offer they rejected, and criticized the airline for bargaining in public.
Global News obtained a memo sent to pilots by John Aaron, WestJet’s vice-president of flight operations, to the airline’s pilots hours after the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) issued a 72-hour strike notice Monday evening.
WestJet pilots are set to walk off the job at 3 a.m. Eastern on Friday unless a deal is reached.
In the memo, Aaron said the airline’s latest offer — which expired after the strike notice was issued — would have raised salaries to “around” $300,000 for a narrowbody aircraft captain and $350,000 for a widebody aircraft captain, before overtime and other stipends.
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Aaron said those wages would have made narrowbody captains and first officers the highest-paid in Canada.
Narrowbody aircraft are the more common passenger planes, like the Boeing 737, that have a single aisle separating passenger seating. WestJet’s current fleet is mostly made up of narrowbody planes.
“Over the term of the agreement, our proposal would have seen wage rate growth, across-the-board increases and redesigned core compensation structures to dramatically increase take home pay on every pay cheque,” he wrote.
But Tim Perry, ALPA’s national president, told Global News in an interview the figures do not represent what all WestJet pilots would earn, adding there’s “a wide range” of both pilot salaries and what the airline was offering.
“We have members that are first officers and captains of all levels of seniority that fly all different types of airplanes,” he said. “And (the memo) certainly doesn’t paint the picture of all the members that we are trying to represent here.
“We represent all the members, not just a couple.”
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Perry would not say what the current range of salaries for WestJet pilots is under the old collective agreement, or give an idea of what salaries were offered to other pilots under the airline’s most recent offer. He said the union will continue to keep talks at the bargaining table, despite Aaron’s memo becoming public.
But he disagreed with Aaron’s statement that the airline’s offer contained “significant” wage increases, even compared to the current top-tier salary.
In his memo, Aaron added the airline’s proposal also “contemplated improvements to scope provisions that provide job protection and improvements to scheduling.”
“Both the wage and scope provisions came at significant cost to the company,” he wrote.
Perry disagreed that the offer adequately addressed the union’s concerns regarding job security and scheduling. He added the airline’s bargaining team had “repurposed” money from other parts of the collective agreement in order to “bolster” its wage offers, which would only harm pilots.
“The context matters,” he said. “Robbing Peter to pay Paul and moving money from one part of the agreement to another … that’s not good faith bargaining in our view.”
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The figures in the memo have not been divulged in any of WestJet’s public statements to date about the ongoing negotiations with ALPA, which represents some 1,600 flight crew at WestJet and subsidiary Swoop.
The proposed wages are significantly higher than the average annual salary in Canada, which was just over $61,000 in 2022, according to Statistics Canada.
Asked how he would respond to Canadians who may balk at the figures in Aaron’s memo, Perry said he understood but noted very few ALPA members would take home those kinds of salaries. Many pilots are not making ends meet with their current wages, he added.
“There’s nothing our pilots want more than to show up for work on Friday,” Perry said. “But they want to do so under a fair contract.”
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The airline issued a lockout notice shortly after the union’s strike notice was announced, and has warned the strike may lead to flight delays and cancellations until it is resolved.
Preparations have begun to operate a reduced schedule with fewer Westjet and Swoop flights and to provide “flexible change and cancel options for those who wish to make alternate arrangements,” WestJet said Monday night.
Aaron, who as vice-president of flight operations is known as WestJet’s “chief pilot,” apologized to pilots in the memo about the stress of potential job action.
“As I’ve discussed on my all-pilot-call I have been in your shoes and recognize the stress of the situation, for that I am truly sorry,” he wrote.
“I still believe we can come to an agreement with your association with meaningful improvements in the Canadian market. You have my word we remain committed to continuing bargaining to reach a fair agreement with you, our valued pilots.”
—With files from David Akin
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