WestJet pilots pick up on possible strike

Nabil Anas
Nabil Anas

Global Courant 2023-05-09 07:57:29

The risk of travel chaos is certainly starting to look as Canadians make plans to take to the skies this long Victoria Day weekend.

On top of the staff shortage, one of Canada’s largest airlines is now on the brink of a labor dispute. More than 300 WestJet pilots lined up outside Terminal 3 at Pearson International Airport this afternoon, with similar strikes in Calgary and Vancouver ahead of a possible strike next week.

Pilots say they are tired of poor treatment, poor pay and high turnover at WestJet.

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“We are ready to take legal action – or be locked out at that point – but we still hope to reach a deal,” Capt. Chris Tholl, a WestJet pilot, told CTV National News.

Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union representing the striking workers, says pilots are leaving at an incredible rate, stating in a press release that WestJet loses “more than 30 a month” equating to a pilot leaving the airline “every 18 hours in search of a better job”.

They say pilots are taking better paying jobs with other airlines, especially in the US, to not only earn more money, but also job security and better scheduling.

“We are among the lowest paid in North America, if not the world, and that needs to change,” Captain Bernard Lewall, chairman of the WestJet ALPA Master Executive Council, told CTV National News.

In a statement to CTV News, WestJet says it is “committed to listening to our pilots’ concerns” as it “reaches an agreement that is competitive within the Canadian airline industry.”

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The labor unrest comes as airlines and airports try to recover from a year of travel turmoil where long waits and lost luggage seemed to be the rule, not the exception.

Pearson Airport, which will rank among the worst in the world for flight delays by 2022, has hired 10,000 new employees ahead of the busy summer travel season.

“Almost 22 percent more employees compared to last summer,” Deborah Flint, president and CEO of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), said at a news conference Monday.

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“The fear, uncertainty, frustration and lack of control passengers felt last year is one we will never forget. We want residents of Toronto, Ontario and Canadians, and travelers from around the world, to know that this summer will be very different and better than the summer of 2022.”

Air Canada continues to operate at 90 percent of its pre-pandemic schedule, but said in a statement it is “employing more people than it did in the summer of 2019 and this should further help resilience.”

WestJet says it plans to hire an additional 2,000 people this year.

But industry experts warn that hiring may not be enough to prevent us from seeing a repeat of last year’s travel delays, with so many variables from ambitious scheduling to a shortage of air traffic controllers contributing to the factors that could lead to delays.

“It’s going to be a turbulent summer,” John Gradek, a professor at McGill University, told CTV National News.

“It can be nasty, so as much as Pearson and the airports want to make sure this doesn’t happen again, we don’t get a repeat, there could be some repeats.”

The first proper test will take place next week ahead of the busy Victoria Day long weekend, which could coincide with a strike by West Jet pilots. The deadline for an agreement is set for next Tuesday.

“On May 13, the pilots are prepared to submit a 72-hour strike notice and expect to be in a legal position to take action by May 16, should management continue to delay negotiations,” the statement said. ALPA statement.

WestJet pilots pick up on possible strike

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