WestJet Group and pilots reach tentative deal, avoiding strike action

Avatar for Skies MagazineBy Skies Magazine | May 19, 2023

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 29 seconds.

At around 1 a.m. ET on May 19, the union representing WestJet and Swoop pilots — the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) — shared an update on Facebook stating that its WestJet pilot leaders voted to approve a tentative agreement with the airline’s management. The deal was reached just hours before WestJet pilots were set to begin strike action — which was to commence at 3 a.m. ET on May 19.

ALPA said a membership vote on the agreement will begin “in the coming days.”

WestJet Dreamliner
A WestJet 787-9 Dreamliner in flight. Galen Burrows Photo

For the last nine months, WestJet pilots have been trying to negotiate higher wages, more flexible schedules, and better job security. ALPA — which represents more than 74,000 pilots at 40 airlines in Canada and the U.S. — had repeatedly suggested that Canadian pilots earn roughly half of what pilots in the U.S. earn, and was fighting for a “North American industry-standard contract.”

WestJet management, however, said those wage expectations were “unreasonable,” and “if realized would permanently damage the financial viability of the group’s future.”

The terms of the tentative agreement between WestJet and ALPA are not clear, but ALPA said in a statement that its WestJet leaders “believe this contract delivers on the goals of better job security, enhanced compensation, and more flexible schedules to allow for a better work/life balance — consistent with collective agreements other ALPA-represented pilot groups are signing with their employers.”

The union noted that WestJet pilots had their first arbitrated contract “forced upon them in 2018,” and since then have “fallen even further behind their North American counterparts with regard to critical contract provisions.”

During negotiations in recent months, Capt Bernard Lewall, chair of the WestJet ALPA Master Executive Council, continued to emphasize that WestJet has pilot attraction and retention issues, and that the airline is “hemorrhaging pilots at the rate of over 30 per month.” 

“When I started at WestJet 18 years ago, it was seen as a career destination,” shared Lewall. “For the past several years, we have unfortunately been nothing more than a training ground for pilots looking to leave for better opportunities.

WestJet management and pilot leaders with ALPA have reached a tentative deal. ALPA Photo

“This contract will help solve many of WestJet’s pilot attraction and retention issues . . . and make WestJet a career destination once again — benefiting everyone involved from our company to our passengers and fellow employees,” he added.

WestJet said that while it is glad to have reached a tentative agreement with ALPA, it recognizes “the impact on our guests.”

The airline said it is in the process of ramping up its operations, “however, the full resumption of operations will take time.”

In the meantime, both WestJet and ALPA await the ratification vote to be put forward to membership.

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