WestJet technicians file unfair labour practice charges to counter ‘reduction in maintenance oversight’

Avatar for Skies MagazineBy Skies Magazine | December 14, 2023

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 14 seconds.

Sean Voskamp Photo

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) — which represents WestJet Airlines’ aircraft maintenance engineers (AMEs) — has taken legal action against the airline, filing unfair labor practice charges with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB). According to an AMFA press release, the dispute centres around WestJet’s creation of the new position of operations manager (OM) and the subsequent transfer of safety-sensitive maintenance coordination work that was previously performed by bargaining unit members.

In an official complaint filed by AMFA against WestJet on Dec. 11, the union requested that CIRB become involved with the matter “due to the impact on aviation safety arising from WestJet’s elimination of the aircraft maintenance lead (AML) and inspection crew lead (ICL) positions, and the transfer of bargaining unit work to the newly created operations manager (OM) position.”

CIRB certified AMFA as the representative of WestJet’s AMEs and other aircraft maintenance employees on March 30, 2023. WestJet announced the creation of the OM position in mid-April, according to the AMFA complaint, which has since sparked tensions within the airline’s maintenance operations — leading to concerns about impacts on safety culture.

AMFA’s charges allege that WestJet’s unilateral decisions have caused “disarray within maintenance operations and hostility among co-workers whose integrated efforts are critical to maintenance safety culture.” The union also claims that the airline’s actions violate the law by making changes to working conditions without prior negotiations with the union, especially concerning the transfer of work outside the bargaining unit.

According to AMFA, WestJet managers have acknowledged the disruptive consequences of the company’s decisions. In a Nov. 10 email from WestJet’s senior manager of labour relations, Virginia Swindall, AMFA was urged to intervene in de-escalating a “serious and emerging concern” related to the airline’s Toronto (YYZ) maintenance operations. Swindall highlighted specific instances of an AME expressing strong discontent with the new OM positions.

AMFA Region II director Will Abbott, in a Nov. 13 letter, emphasized the “dissension within the department, with AMEs perceiving former AMLs who have accepted OM positions” as betraying the bargaining unit and cutting off fellow co-workers from economic opportunities.

AMFA national president Bret Oestreich criticized WestJet for causing emotion and hostility within its maintenance operations, which he believes contradicts the initial reason for unionization — to gain respect for the critical contributions of AMEs to WestJet’s operations.

“The safe performance of aircraft maintenance requires professionalism and mutual trust,” Oestreich noted.

Samuel Seham, an attorney for AMFA, emphasized the legal implications of WestJet’s actions, stating, “Once the CIRB has certified a union, the law prohibits unilateral changes of status quo working conditions without prior negotiations with the union. This is particularly true with respect to the transfer of work outside the bargaining unit and the resulting loss of economic opportunities.”

He attributes the “chaos” within the airline’s maintenance operations to what he considers WestJet’s unlawful conduct.

“We have commenced this CIRB action in the interest of our members and aviation safety,” Seham concluded.

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1 Comment

  1. Once more safety is delegated to the wrong responsibility.
    How can the operator be responsible for safety when the safe-keepers are taken out of the loop?
    All AMEs and others concerned with safety should be concerned.
    The entity really responsible for this condition is Transport Canada who long ago abrogated its responsibility in order to save money by reducing its Inspection staff to the point of ridicule. THE FOX SHOULD NOT BE IN CHARGE OF THE HEN HOUSE>

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