Politics

WestJet strike will continue until there’s a deal, union says, as flight cancellation tally grows

A strike by WestJet Airlines’ mechanics that has led to hundreds of cancelled flights over the Canada Day long weekend will continue until a deal is reached, the union’s president told Reuters on Sunday.

Bret Oestreich, president of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), said the two sides will reconvene with a mediator on Sunday. The union represents about 680 workers at WestJet, including aircraft maintenance engineers, who went on strike Friday after 97 per cent of members rejected a pay deal reached in May.

WestJet has cancelled nearly 700 flights, upending plans for close to 100,000 passengers as the unexpected strike enters its third day on the busiest travel weekend of the season.

“All we want to do is to go back to the table,” said Oestreich. “The strike will be in effect until we get an agreement.”

He said the two sides are separated by a first-year economic difference of approximately seven per cent, or less than $8 million on a roughly four-year contract.

687 cancelled flights

WestJet, which is owned by Onex Corp, was not immediately available for comment on Sunday.

WATCH | Passengers react to surprise strike: 

Here’s how the WestJet strike is hitting Canadians

WestJet mechanics decided to strike as of Friday night — a move that surprised many, as the union and the airline were headed into binding arbitration. Here’s how the strike came to be, and how it’s affecting airline passengers.

Since Thursday, tracking service FlightAware shows WestJet has cancelled 687 flights scheduled to fly between then and the end of the Canada Day long weekend.

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As of Sunday morning, 77 per cent of the day’s trips had been called off, with WestJet topping the global list for cancellations among major airlines Saturday and Sunday.

The workers, whose daily inspections and repairs are essential to airline operations, walked off the job despite a directive for binding arbitration from the federal labour minister.

Both the airline and AMFA have accused the other side of refusing to negotiate in good faith.

WATCH | WestJet boss has strong words for union:

WestJet CEO criticizes union for strike action

WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech directed some strong words at the union representing the airline’s mechanics after strike action was called for the Canada Day long weekend.

WestJet Airlines president Diederik Pen has stressed what he calls the “continued reckless actions” of a union that was making “blatant efforts” to disrupt Canadians’ travel plans, while the union claimed the Calgary-based company has refused to respond to its latest counterproposal.

During a news conference at WestJet headquarters in Calgary on Saturday morning, both Pen and the airline’s chief executive officer, Alexis von Hoensbroech, repeatedly said they were outraged and devastated by the strike, with von Hoensbroech calling it “totally absurd.” 

“The reason why you actually do a strike is because you may need to exercise pressure on the bargaining table. If there is no bargaining table, it makes no sense,” he said.

He said that, as a result of the actions, the situation “will only grow in difficulty and magnitude.”

“So this is a very destructive thing, basically done by a rogue U.S. union that’s trying to make inroads into Canada and taking some practices in here that are very, very unusual,” said von Hoensbroech.

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