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Update: WestJet cancels 40 flights ahead of potential strike on Thursday

Last-minute negotiation cancellations spark union response
Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association union members issue strike notice against WestJet.

Aircraft maintenance engineers (AME) for WestJet have issued a 72-hour strike notice after the airline cancelled negotiation plans at the last minute.

And they say, if WestJet doesn't return to the table, they will go on strike on Thursday, June 20.

In anticipation of the strike, WestJet announced on Tuesday evening that it had started cancelling and consolidating flights "in order to park aircraft in a safe and organized manner."

About 40 flights have been cancelled between June 18 and 20, with approximately 6,500 guests impacted.

"The decision to cancel flights comes as the WestJet Group awaits a response on behalf of the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to intervene under the Canada Labour Code," reads WestJet's announcement.

"If accepted, this action would refer both WestJet and AMFA to arbitration for a first collective agreement and prevent labour action by either party."

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), the union representing WestJet aircraft maintenance engineers and technical operation employees, said in a media statement that the strike notice comes as a response to WestJet's refusal to continue negotiations that were scheduled for June 19 and 20 in Calgary.

Union members are asking for a compensation package similar to other North American airlines.

A tentative agreement between the maintenance engineers and WestJet was rejected by a 97.25 per cent "no vote" on June 11.

AMFA President Bret Oestrich said the leading cause for the rejection was economic reasons and "WestJet's bad faith bargaining tactics" during the negotiation process.

“WestJet has admitted that they cannot hire qualified engineers at the rates it is paying," said Oestrich in a statement, adding many positions are unfilled as AMEs are resigning with an increase in grounded planes.

"Still, WestJet’s final offer was more than 30 percent below the prevailing rate at North American carriers.”

The AMFA was told on the evening of June 17 that the airline would not continue negotiations.

WestJet has made formal requests that the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) and Minister of Labour intervene under the Canada Labour Code, according to the airline's website.

Having the CIRB and Minister of Labour intervene would refer both the union and the airline to arbitration for a first collective agreement and "would allow an unbiased third-party to issue a collective agreement" and prevent any labour action by either side, explained WestJet.

The airline posted a statement on its website describing the process as "challenging" and stated that the 72-hour notice does not mean there will be travel disruptions.

"Requesting intervention on behalf of the CIRB and Minister of Labour under the Canada Labour Code allows an unbiased third-party to issue a reasonable collective agreement,” said Diederik Pen, President of WestJet Airlines and Chief Operating Officer.

"Through this process we aim to avoid disruption and ensure a fair and impartial resolution, providing certainty to our guests and the communities we serve who are relying on us to fulfill their summer travel plans, as well as providing stability and security for all employees at the WestJet Group.”

In its flight cancellation announcement published on Tuesday evening, Pen added the bargaining process had "broken down."

"Following the memberships' nearly unanimous decision to reject a generous tentative agreement that would have made our aircraft maintenance engineers the highest paid in the country, with a take-home pay increase of 30 to 40 per cent in the first year of the proposed agreement, it is clear that the bargaining process has broken down," said Pen.

Richmond AMEs are holding an "information picket" for public awareness and support at Richmond's Larry Berg Flight Path Park along Russ Baker Way at 8 a.m. on June 19.

The union said it will go on strike at 9 p.m. EST (6 p.m. PST) on June 20 unless WestJet returns to the negotiation table.

Guests travelling via WestJet are advised to check the status of their flight before leaving for the airport. Updates will be available on WestJet's website.

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