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WestJet strike averted, government forces binding arbitration 

By Ben Forrest | June 27, 2024

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 51 seconds.

After days of heightened tensions, public posturing and brinksmanship, WestJet and the union representing its aircraft maintenance engineers (AMEs) and other technical operations staff will face binding arbitration to resolve their ongoing labour dispute.  

The parties have averted a strike ahead of the Canada Day weekend, giving relief to more than 200,000 passengers expected to travel with the Calgary-based airline on the busiest weekend of the summer.  

“The parties still remain far apart today, and tensions have only increased since last Tuesday,” said Canada’s federal labour minister, Seamus O’Reagan Jr., in a statement.  

“It is my firm belief that a strong collective bargaining relationship can be built. I will support the parties in whatever I can to help them form that relationship.”  

As labour minister, O’Reagan exercised his power under the Canada Labour Code to force final binding arbitration to “resolve outstanding terms of the collective agreement,” he said in a statement posted to X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter.  

WestJet and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), which represents the affected workers, remain at an impasse over terms of their first collective agreement.  

AMFA threatened a strike that could have begun at 5:30 p.m. Mountain Time on Friday, prompting WestJet to issue a lockout notice and cancel about 25 flights affecting roughly 3,300 passengers on Thursday and Friday. A labour stoppage would reportedly have cost the airline millions of dollars. 

Now, the parties will make their case to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB), which has been directed to impose a final decision on any outstanding terms.  

“With the government’s actions, the summer travel plans of Canadians have been protected and we have a path to resolution,” said Diederik Pen, president of WestJet Airlines and group chief operating officer.

“We recognize the significant impact the initial cancellations continue to have on our guests and our people, and we sincerely appreciate their patience and understanding as we resume operations.” 

AMFA said it will comply with the minister’s order, and directed its members to “refrain from any unlawful job action.” The union said its legal counsel advises there is, “no modern precedent for the Minister’s action.”

WestJet said a lockout will not occur, and the airline will, “no longer proceed in cancelling flights.”

The airline said it is ramping up its operations as quickly and efficiently as possible, while ensuring safety, and directed guests to check the status of their flights before departing for the airport.

“Strong agreements set unions and employers on the path of collective bargaining,” said O’Reagan. 

“They set a strong foundation to build upon at the bargaining table and bring the parties one step closer to a strong second agreement and an even stronger third agreement—reached at the bargaining table. That’s what we want to see here.” 

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