WestJet Encore pilots vote for strike mandate, adding to airline’s turbulence

 CALGARY — WestJet Encore pilots could go on strike as soon as April 17 after they approved a strike mandate Tuesday. Aviators at WestJet’s regional carrier voted 97 per cent in favour of strike authorization after contract talks around pay and career progression came to a “near standstill,” the Air Line Pilots Association said. The [[{“value”:”

CALGARY — WestJet Encore pilots could go on strike as soon as April 17 after they approved a strike mandate Tuesday.

Aviators at WestJet’s regional carrier voted 97 per cent in favour of strike authorization after contract talks around pay and career progression came to a “near standstill,” the Air Line Pilots Association said.

The 355 pilots it represents can walk off the tarmac 72 hours after union leadership files a strike notice. The potential job action or lockout can only take place after a 21-day cooling-off period that started when federal conciliation between the two sides wrapped up last week.

Carin Kenny, who heads the union’s WestJet Encore contingent, said its workers are the lowest-paid regional pilots in Canada, driving some to seek jobs elsewhere. 

The pilot shortage that she says persists at Encore makes the leap to WestJet’s higher-wage mainline operation a rare feat, since flight crew are needed at the regional level.

WestJet did not immediately respond to questions on the strike mandate.

The airline narrowly averted a strike last year after talks with a different set of pilots came down to the wire, prompting the carrier to cancel more than 230 flights in preparation for a job action before a deal was reached hours ahead of the walkout deadline.

The collective agreement with pilots at WestJet and Swoop — but not WestJet Encore — granted a 24 per cent pay bump over four years.

WestJet announced in June last year it would wind down its five-year-old subsidiary Swoop and fold the budget airline’s operations under its main banner.

The potential labour disruption comes as Canada’s second-largest airline faces indefinite delays on dozens of new aircraft deliveries after a panel blowout on a Boeing 737 Max plane in January pushed back certification for the Max 10 as the U.S. aircraft maker contends with greater scrutiny from regulators.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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