WestJet is cancelling dozens of flights as mechanic strike looms

WestJet is cancelling dozens of flights across Canada as unionized maintenance engineers at the company prepare to go on strike.

The company said in a statement on Wednesday that it was going to cancel 40 flights as it prepares for labour action by WestJet aircraft maintenance engineers and other tech ops employees. The airline said the cancellation would affect around 6,500 passengers.

The group said both guests and crew were being informed of the cancellations, which were being rolled out to minimize the potential of flights being stranded and abandoned in remote locations.

On Monday, WestJet mechanics gave a 72-hour strike notice and said they were ready to walk off the job as early as Thursday night. The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, which represents some 670 aircraft maintenance engineers and other skilled-trade positions at the carrier, says it made the decision after WestJet cut off talks this week.

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WestJet asked the federal labour minister to refer negotiations to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, which would then arbitrate the terms of a collective agreement.

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In its statement Wednesday, the WestJet group said it “awaits a response on behalf of the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to intervene under the Canada Labour Code. If accepted, this action would refer both WestJet and AMFA to arbitration for a first collective agreement and prevent labour action by either party.”

WestJet president Diederik Pen said arbitration would allow an unbiased third party to lay out a reasonable deal, and would bar a work stoppage in the meantime.

However, the union, whose members voted overwhelmingly to reject a tentative agreement last week, opposes the move, saying it would undermine its goal of an “industry-changing contract.”

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— with files from Canadian Press

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