WestJet is scrambling to restart more than 100 cancelled flights Friday after avoiding a pilots’ strike that threatened to upend Canadians’ Victoria Day long weekend travel plans.
The Calgary-based airline and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) announced a tentative agreement to avoid the job action early Friday morning. Some 1,800 pilots at WestJet and Swoop had been poised to walk off the job overnight Friday after the ALPA served a strike notice Monday.
In anticipation of a work stoppage, WestJet grounded more than 100 flights Thursday to avoid “abandoning aircraft in remote locations without support.” The process of getting those flights back online started after the tentative agreement was reached, WestJet said.
“The WestJet Group is ramping up its operations as quickly and efficiently as possible, however the full resumption of operations will take time,” the airline said in a statement.
“Guests remain encouraged to continue to check the status of their flights before heading to the airport.”
WestJet’s cancellations affected dozens of routes within Canada and to the U.S. and overseas, while flights at the WestJet Encore regional service and the WestJet-owned Sunwing Airlines were unaffected.
A membership vote on the agreement will begin in the coming days, the two sides said.
“After months of tough negotiations with management, we are pleased to announce an agreement-in-principle that goes a long way to recognizing the value and expertise we bring to our airline every day,” said Capt. Bernard Lewall, chair of the WestJet ALPA master executive council.
The union has said WestJet pilots have fallen behind their North American counterparts in recent years with regard to critical contract provisions, including job protections, career advancement, pay and scheduling flexibility.
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ALPA and WestJet both said they believe the contract provides better job security, enhanced compensation and more flexible schedules to allow for a better work/life balance.
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“When I started at WestJet 18 years ago, it was seen as a career destination,” Lewall said in a statement.
“For the past several years, we have unfortunately been nothing more than a training ground for pilots looking to leave for better opportunities.”
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Throughout negotiations, the union said WestJet management repeatedly spoke to its growth strategy.
“If ratified, the pilots will send a strong message that they remain committed to being a major contributor to WestJet’s success and help the company recognize its growth strategy,” the union said.
— with files from Global News’ Karen Bartko and The Canadian Press
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