WestJet pilots have committed to not disrupting passenger travel plans over the Victoria Day long weekend despite voting overwhelmingly to give its union a strike mandate.
The Air Line Pilots Association said its WestJet members voted 91 per cent in favour of strike action.
About 95 per cent of WestJet’s 1,500 pilots voted.
“I’m hoping with the gesture of goodwill we made today that we’ll see some significant progress at the table and we can hopefully come to a successful negotiation relatively quickly,” Capt. Rob McFadyen, chairman of the WestJet association’s master executive council, said in an interview.
He said the union decided to delay a potential strike date past the long weekend so as not to disrupt the travel plans of WestJet passengers.
McFadyen, who met Thursday with WestJet CEO Ed Sims, said the vote was a show of unity that the company should take seriously.
“Today the pilots made it very clear with a very unified voice that these issues are very important to us, and they are unified in making sure that we do achieve that contract that the pilots expect.”
The result was announced with eight days remaining in the 21-day cooling-off period, after which the union can launch a strike or the airline can lock out employees.
Pilots will be in a legal position to commence job action on May 19, but now say they won’t strike before May 22.
He added that it’s time for the efforts of pilots to be properly recognized in terms of industry-standard compensation and working conditions, and job security that prevents management from outsourcing jobs.
“We’re making progress on some of the smaller issues that we hoped to clear up quite some time ago but I believe we’ll be addressing a lot of the major issues in the coming week.”
The union said negotiations will continue starting next week in Halifax and it is committed to staying there for as long as it takes to get a first collective agreement done.
Sims said the Calgary-based airline respects the outcome and recognized the mandate pilots have given the association.
He also said the airline appreciates that passenger travel plans won’t be disrupted over the long weekend.
“We remain at the negotiation table to drive a sustainable agreement, in the best interest of our pilots, 13,000 WestJetters and the 70,000 guests who fly with us daily,” he said in a news release.
WestJet warned on Tuesday that its bookings have slowed as passengers respond to the threat of a potential labour disruption from pilots who are trying to negotiate their first collective agreement.
Air Canada has capitalized on its rival’s situation by formally announcing Thursday that it is expanding capacity on key transcontinental routes in response to the strike mandate at its large domestic rival.
The Montreal-based airline said it will use larger planes on some flights from its main hub in Toronto to Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax, from Vancouver to Calgary, Edmonton, and from Calgary to Montreal.
“Travellers who may be concerned about the uncertainty resulting from WestJet’s strike vote mandate can book Air Canada with confidence,” it said in a release.
“With our flexible and diverse fleet, we will continue adjusting capacity where possible to limit disruptions for people travelling.
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Companies in this story: (TSX:WJA, TSX:AC)
Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said WestJet Encore pilots also voted to strike.