July 24th, 2024

WestJet cancels at least 150 flights following surprise mechanics union strike

By David Boles, The Canadian Press on June 29, 2024.

Travellers passing through airports are wondering if they'll be able to catch their WestJet flight this Canada Day long weekend. A WestJet logo is seen in the domestic check-in area at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Friday, May 19, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

CALGARY – WestJet says it’s cancelled at least 150 flights beginning Saturday after the union maintaining the airline’s planes announced it went on strike hours earlier.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) announced its members started to strike around 5:30 p.m. MDT Friday because the airline’s “unwillingness to negotiate with the union made the strike inevitable.”

The move came after the federal government issued a ministerial order for binding arbitration on Thursday.

The order also followed two weeks of turbulent discussions with the union on a new deal.

Calgary-based WestJet has lambasted the move by the mechanics union, saying it’s “extremely outraged at these actions and will hold AMFA 100 per cent accountable for the unnecessary stress and costs incurred as a result.”

On Thursday, WestJet said that AMFA “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 change in position on Friday seemed to shock both travellers and executives alike.

“Is my flight on Sunday in jeopardy?” asked Andrew Wheatley of Edmonton in a post to X.

“I support a union’s right to strike if it’s legal. And hopefully, they will get a good deal. But at the same time, I have to be at work Monday morning,” he added.

In an update to its membership, the union negotiating committee referenced an order by the Canada Industrial Relations Board that does not explicitly bar any strikes or lockouts as the tribunal undertakes arbitration following labour minister Seamus O’Regan’s directive Wednesday.

This isn’t the first time WestJet has been on the verge of a strike. Last year, the airline averted a strike in the early hours of the May long weekend, but before cancelling over 230 flights and forcing thousands of people to have their travel plans changed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2024.

– with files from Chris Reynolds in MontrĂ©al.

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