Deal reached in WestJet mechanics’ strike, but travel disruptions still expected

A WestJet mechanics strike is over after a late weekend deal was reached, but many travellers across the country are still stranded. As Afua Baah explains, it may take a few days before full flight service is restored.

By Nick Westoll

WestJet executives and the union representing striking mechanics have announced they reached a second tentative agreement, ending a strike that resulted in hundreds of flights being cancelled.

“As a direct result of our members’ solidarity, AMFA was able to reach a second tentative agreement providing substantial improvements over both your current terms of employment and the terms provided for in the first tentative agreement,” a statement posted on the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) website late Sunday said.

“We request that you return to work forthwith so that we can provide the value of your labour that was the primary element in achieving this deal.”

The statement said the second collective agreement, if approved, would provide an immediate 15.5-per-cent wage increase without shifting monies from the WestJet Savings Plan, further yearly wage increases throughout the rest of the five-year contract, and increased overtime pay.

“Your negotiating committee is pleased to present to you [second tentative agreement] and is grateful for your indispensable contribution. Your presence in bargaining sessions and on picket lines had a meaningful impact on the end result of this journey.”

News of the deal was also posted on the WestJet website late Sunday after executives said contract talks restarted earlier in the day. It said the AMFA agreed to withdraw strike action as of 11:30 p.m. ET. and an effort to restore the full network is underway.

WestJet said there will still be flight disruptions in the week ahead as its planes are brought back into service.

“The airline will begin work to restore operations in a safe and timely manner,” the statement said.

“The damage to Canadians and our airline is massive, a swift resolution was necessary. We take no victory laps on this outcome but will sleep better tonight knowing further harm has been prevented,” said WestJet president Diederik Pen.

“We want to thank guests for their patience during what was an uncertain and stressful time.”

WestJet officials cited a “lack of clarity” from the federal government and decisions made by the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB).

“With no path forward to resolution, both parties made essential movements to find common ground and achieve an agreement,” the statement said.

Since the strike began, WestJet officials said 130 aircraft were parked at 13 airports across Canada with hundreds of flights being cancelled since Thursday. As of the end of Sunday, there were only 32 aircraft set to be operational. It was estimated 110,000 passengers were impacted.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan posted on X, saying “Canadians’ patience having been worn too thin. Collective bargaining is the responsibility of the parties. The responsibility of the government is to facilitate and mediate that bargaining. The parties finally did their jobs.”

Approximately 680 workers, whose daily inspections and repairs are essential to airline operations, walked off the job Friday evening despite a directive for binding arbitration from Canada’s federal labour minister.

Before the second tentative deal was announced, WestJet and AMFA officials each accused the other side of refusing to negotiate in good faith.

The job action comes after union members voted overwhelmingly to reject a tentative deal from WestJet in mid-June and following two weeks of tense talks between the two parties.

As the clock ticked down toward a Friday strike deadline, the impasse prompted O’Regan to step in, mandating that the airline and union undertake binding arbitration headed by the country’s labour tribunal.

That process typically sidesteps a work stoppage. WestJet executives thought so, stating the union had “confirmed they will abide by the direction.”

“Given this, a strike or lockout will not occur, and the airline will no longer proceed in cancelling flights,” the airline said on Thursday.

The mechanics took a different view. The union negotiating committee said it would “comply with the minister’s order and directs its members to refrain from any unlawful job action.” Less than 24 hours later, workers were on the picket lines.

A decision from the CIRB seemed to affirm the legality of their actions regardless of protocols around arbitration.

With files from The Canadian Press

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