For the first time in many years, it looks like the pilots of one of the major North American airlines will go on strike (which is different from the recent strike vote we’ve seen on almost all of the major US airlines).
WestJet pilots are about to strike
We’ve seen pilots at many airlines negotiate new contracts in recent months, given that demand for travel has risen again exponentially after the pandemic, and there is a shortage of pilots. Negotiations are particularly tense at Calgary-based WestJet.
WestJet and its pilots have been negotiating a new contract for some time, but they don’t seem to have reached an agreement. As a result, the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents approximately 1,800 WestJet pilots, has issued a legal notice that pilots will strike for 72 hours beginning at 5 a.m. ET on Friday, May 19, 2023.
While it’s always possible to have some last-minute negotiations, WestJet is more or less preparing to close for the long weekend. The airline is making it a priority to get all planes and crews back to bases, so we’re already seeing flights canceled on Thursday to reduce chaos. The vast majority of mainline flights are expected to be canceled within the 72-hour period, unless there is a last-minute advance in negotiations.
Here’s how WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech describes the situation:
“We are extremely disappointed to find ourselves in the position of having to activate our contingency plan and subsequent removal of our network as a result of ALPA’s notice of strike and its inability to accept a reasonable offer. We deeply regret the disruption to the travel plans of our guests and the communities and businesses that depend on our critical air services We are still in an awkward stalemate with the union and we had no choice but to start taking the agonizing steps to prepare for the reality of being out of work.”
“We remain at the negotiating table, unequivocally committed to achieving a deal as soon as possible, but we are equally prepared to weather business processes for as long as possible to reach a reasonable outcome. Any impact on guest is cost prohibitive in the aftermath of these negotiations, and we sincerely apologize.” Because the honored guests were caught up in a conflict that could have been avoided.”
What do WestJet pilots ask for?
Why is there such a big gap between what WestJet management is offering and what pilots are willing to accept? This depends on which party you are asking about.
If you ask WestJet management, the company claims to have made a very reasonable and generous offer to the airline’s pilots. The company states that its latest bid would have brought salaries to about $300,000 for narrow-body captains and about $350,000 for wide-body captains (in Canadian dollars), before overtime and other allowances. This would have made WestJet narrow-body pilots the highest paid in Canada, for these types of aircraft.
The union claims that these figures are not representative of what most WestJet pilots will receive, that there is a wide salary range for those with less seniority, and so on. The union’s main problem appears to be that pilots work at a “steep discount” compared to what pilots are paid in the US. The union claims that WestJet pilots earn 45% of the average wages in the United States.
WestJet pilots basically want their paycheck to be similar to what pilots at US airlines make. Delta pilots recently negotiated an industry-leading contract, a US CEO promises a new contract could make the pilots up to $590,000 a year (in US dollars), and United Airmen say they want a better contract than what Delta negotiated.
WestJet management of course points out that it will be difficult to match wage rates in the US market, given the currency exchanges between countries, as well as the different economies. This gap has existed for decades.
WestJet pilots are preparing to go on a 72-hour strike, and the airline is canceling most flights between Friday and Sunday. If this strike occurs, it will be the first strike we’ve seen from North American pilots in many years.
WestJet appears to have offered pilots significant pay increases, but the pilots are hoping to narrow the gap between pilot wages in Canada and the United States, given the current shortage of pilots. I imagine this could be a nasty fight, because these expectations are fundamentally different from what the company is willing to present.
What do you think of WestJet’s upcoming test strike?
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