Westjet: Strike or Lockout for Maintenance Workers?

WestJet Las Vegas, Orlando, Cancun, Montego Bay flights return
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Federal Canadian mediators advised Westjet and AMFA that a strike by, or lockout of, WestJet aircraft maintenance employees could commence as early as April 17 of this year.

On January 26, 2024, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) advised that WestJet Airlines had filed a Notice of Dispute under Section 71 of the Canada Labour Code relating to the ongoing contract negotiations between the carrier and its Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (AMEs) represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).  WestJet filed the notice, without prior consultation with AMFA, after only three negotiation sessions.

According to WestJet’s Notice of Dispute, the FMCS has placed the parties into a program of mediated negotiations that extends until March 26, 2024.

Unless the parties jointly agree to an extension of mediated negotiations, a twenty-one (21) day cooling-off period would then commence, after which the AMEs would be free to strike and WestJet would be free to lock out the AMEs. 

On January 30, 2024, federal mediators advised the two parties that a strike by, or lockout of, WestJet aircraft maintenance employees could commence as early as April 17 of this year.

“We consider WestJet’s unilateral filing with the FMCS to have been premature given that we have not even touched upon basic economic issues related to compensation,” commented AMFA National President Bret Oestreich. “However, perhaps it is for the best. WestJet has not been forthcoming at the negotiating table. Some of the carrier’s proposals would actually undercut employee entitlements under the Canada Labour Code. AMEs need to have their working conditions improved, not degraded any further.”

The AMFA-WestJet relationship has been characterized by litigation and workplace disruptions. WestJet has challenged the Canadian Industrial Relations Board’s (CIRB) definition of the AME bargaining unit in a lawsuit currently pending in a federal appeals court. AMFA has filed multiple charges against WestJet before the CIRB concerning bad faith bargaining and the transfer of work outside of the bargaining unit to a new Operations Manager (OM) position.

WestJet managers have recognized the disruptive impact of the company’s actions.  In an email dated November 10, 2023, WestJet’s Senior Manager, Labour Relations, Virginia Swindall, sought AMFA’s immediate “intervention in de-escalating” a “serious and emerging concern” relating to its Toronto maintenance operations.  According to Swindall, WestJet’s Manager, Line Maintenance, Darren Cook, reported that a Toronto AME was “passionately advising our employees to ‘Fuck the OMs,’ etc.”

“There is a nationwide shortage of qualified Aircraft Maintenance Engineers and WestJet has acknowledged that it has been unable to fill AME vacancies,” observed Oestreich.  “WestJet has initiated a program of mandatory overtime and our AMEs are reporting that they are being forced to perform their aircraft maintenance duties in a state of fatigue. It seems like WestJet is looking for a brawl.  Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.”

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association is a craft-oriented, independent aviation union representing licensed and unlicensed engineers/technicians and related employees actively involved in the aviation industry. These professionals work directly on aircraft and/or components, support equipment, and facilities. AMFA is committed to elevating the standing of and achieving progressive improvements in wages, benefits, and working conditions of the skilled professionals it represents.

About the author

Avatar of Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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