Pilots at Canada's WestJet Airlines approve possible strike action

WestJet Airlines pilots on Tuesday voted for possible strike action as early as May 16, underscoring broader efforts by North American pilots to make gains on salary and working conditions as traffic rises. Pilots at Onex Corp's WestJet Group, Canada's second-largest carrier, could strike or be locked out if notice is given on May 13, union representative Bernard Lewall said. Participating pilots voted 93% in favour of strike authorization, said Lewall, chair of the local union with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

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Calgary-based WestJet said the carrier wants an agreement that is competitive within Canada's airline industry. "A strike authorization vote is a common step by unions in the context of the overall labour negotiation process and does not mean a strike will occur," WestJet Chief Operating Officer Diederik Pen said in a statement. About 1,700 pilots flying for WestJet, and affiliate budget carrier Swoop are negotiating through the federal conciliation process, which will end on April 24, ALPA said.

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Lewall said the union is pushing for one set of working conditions for member pilots, including higher pay. Some airline executives are concerned that hefty pilot raises will inflate fixed costs and make it tougher to repair debt-laden balance sheets. Delta Air Lines pilots ratified a new contract in March that includes $7 billion in cumulative increases in pay and benefits over four years. Pilots at American Airlines Group, said earlier in April they are "near" to reaching an agreement in principle with the U.S. carrier on a new contract. Their union, the Allied Pilots Association, is also holding a strike authorization vote that concludes on April 30. However, it would be very hard for the Allied pilots to walk off the job because of a complex labour process in the United States that makes it difficult for airline workers to strike.

Source: Reuters

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