Flight cancellations grow as WestJet mechanics hit picket lines

Calgary-based airline WestJet has cancelled more than 200 flights after the union representing its plane mechanics announced late Friday that members had hit the picket lines.The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) announced its members started to strike around 5:30 p.m. MDT Friday because the airline’s “unwillingness to negotiate with the union made the strike inevitable.”

The move came after the federal government issued a ministerial order for binding arbitration Thursday, and two weeks of turbulent discussions with the union on a new deal.Union officials are seeking a new collective agreement that includes higher wages and benefits.

Speaking to reporters in Calgary on Saturday, WestJet president Diederik Pen said the strike has led to the cancellation of 235 flights as of Saturday morning, impacting around 33,000 people.

If there is no solution Saturday, the airline will likely cancel another 150 flights.The Canada Day long weekend typically sees around 70,000 guests fly on WestJet flights. That’s up from the 65,000 guests WestJet normally serves on weekends.“The stress and the devastation this is causing is unnecessary and hurts all of us,” Pen said.“We’re outraged and I just want to make sure that you can rest assured that we are doing everything we can to get this resolved and to get an intervention.”

WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said the directive handed down by Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, ordering the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to mandate arbitration, means the bargaining process has ended.It leaves a single arbitrator to decide on a contract rather than both parties at the bargaining table, he said.“This makes a strike totally absurd because the reason why you actually do a strike is because you may need to exercise pressure on the bargaining table,” von Hoensbroech said.“If there is no bargaining table, it makes no sense.”The CIRB has previously ruled that it can’t interfere in the free bargaining process or the workers’ right to strike.

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