WestJet cancels more than 150 flights after surprise mechanics union strike

This isn’t the first time labour unrest at WestJet has affected holiday weekend travel plans
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Travellers passing through airports are wondering if they’ll be able to catch their WestJet flight this Canada Day long weekend. A WestJet logo is seen in the domestic check-in area at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Friday, May 19, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A surprise strike by unionized airline mechanics at WestJet has left thousands of the airline’s passengers wondering whether they will get to their destinations today after the airline cancelled more than 150 flights.

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 on Thursday.

The order followed two weeks of turbulent discussions with the union on a new deal.

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan issued a brief statement on Saturday morning saying he was reviewing the order by the Canada Industrial Relations Board, calling it “clearly inconsistent” with the direction he provided.”

“I will be looking at additional steps to protect the interests of the employer, the union and all Canadians travelling over this national holiday weekend,” said O’Regan.

In an update to its membership, the union posted a letter from the board regarding its decision in which it said that the ministerial referral “does not have the effect of suspending the right to strike or lockout.”

Calgary-based WestJet lambasted the move by the mechanics union, saying it’s “extremely outraged at these actions and will hold AMFA 100 per cent accountable for the unnecessary stress and costs incurred as a result.”

The threat of a strike seemed to recede on Thursday when WestJet said AMFA had “confirmed they will abide by the direction. Given this, a strike or lockout will not occur, and the airline will no longer proceed in cancelling flights.”

Friday’s change in position seemed to shock travellers and executives alike.

“Is my flight on Sunday in jeopardy?” asked Andrew Wheatley of Edmonton in a post to X.

“I support a union’s right to strike if it’s legal. And hopefully, they will get a good deal. But at the same time, I have to be at work Monday morning,” he added.

This isn’t the first time labour unrest at WestJet has affected holiday weekend travel plans. The airline averted a strike last year in the early hours of the May long weekend, but before cancelling over 230 flights and forcing thousands of people to have their travel plans changed.

- with files from Christopher Reynolds in Montréal and Keith Doucette in Halifax

The Canadian Press