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WestJet Encore pilots vote overwhelmingly in favour of strike action

Turbulent skies could be ahead after WestJet Encore pilots voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate on Tuesday.

Of the 89 per cent of pilots who took part in the vote, 97 per cent voted in favour of strike action if a contract isn’t negotiated by April 17, 2024. The 355 Encore pilots are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association Int’l (ALPA) and while they have the same parent company as WestJet, Encore is a separate entity.

The pilots can walk off the tarmac 72 hours after union leadership files a strike notice.

“Our industry and our company reputation are built on trust and stability,” Capt. Carin Kenny, chair of the WestJet Encore ALPA Master Executive Council, said in a release. “That’s why our tactic at the negotiating table has been to make commonsense proposals that will provide a path forward for the WestJet Group and its pilots.”

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The results come just one week into a mandated 21-day cooling-off period that resulted from federal reconciliation attempts last week. At issue are concerns about pay, schedules and career progression.

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“We are here to fight for a contract that will once again make working within the WestJet Group a career goal. Unfortunately, despite management’s platitudes, our proposals continue to fall on deaf ears,” Kenny said.

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Kenny admits that progress was made in the initial stages of the seven months of negotiation, but those talks have come to a “near standstill.” ALPA representatives say that WestJet Encore pilots are some of the lowest-paid regional pilots in Canada and that they lack stability and career progression opportunities.

“Without drastic improvement on our next contract, there will be little stopping WestJet Encore pilots from continuing to seek better employment opportunities elsewhere,” Kenny stated. “That’s why we are looking for an industry-standard contract comparable to some of our regional colleagues across Canada.”

While flight disruptions are never an ideal outcome for passengers, the union says their negotiators are still committed to the bargaining process 24/7 – but they are prepared to file a 72-hour strike notice on April 14 if contract negotiations fail. That means the group would be in a legal strike position on April 17.

WestJet Airlines president Diederik Pen said a strike authorization vote marks a common step by unions in the context of labour negotiations.

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“We are steadfast in our commitment to reach an agreement with ALPA that addresses the unique concerns of our Encore pilots, is competitive within Canada’s airline industry and ensures we have a long-term sustainable future so that we can continue to operate critical air service for millions of Canadians while providing meaningful employment for thousands at the WestJet Group,” Pen said in a statement.

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–With files from Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press.

&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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