Flights out of Kelowna, Kamloops impacted by WestJet mechanics strike - Kelowna News (2024)

Flights out of Kelowna, Kamloops impacted by WestJet mechanics strike - Kelowna News (1)

Photo: The Canadian Press

Striking aircraft mechanics are seen on the picket line at Pearson International Airport, in Toronto, Saturday.

UPDATE: 12:05 p.m.

An unexpected strike by unionized airline mechanics at WestJet left tens of thousands of passengers juggling travel plans Saturday after the airline cancelled hundreds of flights, including a handful in B.C.'s Interior.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) announced its members walked off the job 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, following two weeks of turbulent discussions with the union on a new deal.

WestJet executives told a news conference in Calgary that 235 flights had already been cancelled as of mid-day Saturday affecting some 33,000 passengers, with the possibility of another 150 cancelled flights by the end of the day if there was no resolution to the walkout.

Early Saturday morning, eight arriving and departing WestJet flights into Kelowna International Airport were listed as cancelled on the airport's website, along with a single cancelled flight from Calgary into Kamloops Airport.

By noon, an additional YLW WestJet flight to Toronto that had been scheduled for late Saturday night has now also been cancelled. Another WestJet flight to Calgary that was meant to leave YLW at 11:55 a.m. has been delayed several times, with the latest departure time now set at 1:40 p.m.

WestJet Airlines president Diederik Pen called the strike “devastating” for passengers and the airline.

“We are outraged and I want to assure you that we are doing everything we can to get this resolved,” said Pen.

The airline’s CEO, Alexis von Hoensbroech, put the blame for the situation squarely on what he said was a “rogue union from the U.S.” that was trying to make inroads in Canada.”

Von Hoensbroech said as far as the airline was concerned, bargaining with the union had come to an end once the minister directed the dispute to binding arbitration.

“This makes a strike totally absurd because the reason you actually do a strike is because you need to exercise pressure on the bargaining table,” he said. “If there is no bargaining table it makes no sense, there shouldn’t be a strike.”

He added the union had rejected a contract offer that would have made the airline’s mechanics the “best paid in the country.”

Meanwhile, federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan also appeared to be grappling with the strike and its fallout.

He issued a brief statement on Saturday morning saying he was reviewing the order by the Canada Industrial Relations Board and describing it as “clearly inconsistent" with the direction he provided.” But a new statement later in the day said he respects the authority of the board, which he noted is independent from the government. He intended to meet with the two sides later Satuday, he added.

In an update to its 680 members, 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.”

The threat of a strike seemed to recede On Thursday when WestJet said AMFA had "confirmed they would 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.

Sean McVeigh, a WestJet aircraft maintenance engineer picketing at Toronto Pearson International Airport’s Terminal 3 on Saturday, said the strike is an attempt to force the airline to return to a “respectful negotiation.”

McVeigh said the union regrets any inconvenience caused to passengers.

“However, the reason they (passengers) have possibly missed a flight or had to cancel is due to the reason that WestJet is not respectfully sitting down at the table and negotiating,” he said alongside roughly 20 others on the picket line.

McVeigh said the union is asking for better working conditions and a “fair and respectful wage.”

“We take on a lot of responsibility and we would just like to be appreciated financially,” he said.

Earlier this month, the mechanics voted overwhelmingly to reject a tentative deal with the Calgary-based airline, prompting WestJet to seek government intervention.

Gabor Lukacs, president of advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, said as things currently stand the union is participating in a legal strike.

“I believe that the blame here lies at the feet of management and not the union,” Lukacs said in a phone interview. “From a business management perspective they (WestJet) have not been handling the situation well and they need to face the music.”

He said WestJet has an obligation under the law to find stranded passengers alternate travel arrangements within 48 hours, either through another of its flights or with a competitor.

People can also ask for a refund, although Lukacs said he recommends against doing so.

“I would urge passengers not to take a refund unless they are absolutely sure they don’t want to travel,” he said. “If you take a refund then WestJet can wash its hands of its obligations to you.”

Pen said WestJet would follow regulations and refund passengers while offering overnight hotel stays to those who are stranded. Beyond that he said the airline was “unable to provide any additional compensation.”

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 The Canadian Press

Flights out of Kelowna, Kamloops impacted by WestJet mechanics strike - Kelowna News (2)

Photo: Contributed

The departure gate at YLW Saturday after a number of flights were cancelled due to a strike by WestJet mechanics.

UPDATE: 8:50 a.m.

This weekend's strike by WestJet mechanics is impacting local flights.

According to the Kelowna International Airport website Saturday morning, eight arriving WestJet flights and eight departing WestJet flights out of YLW have been cancelled.

“There have been several cancellations of WestJet flights arriving and departing Kelowna International Airport on Saturday, June 29,” YLW posted on their website.

“We are continuing to work with WestJet to understand how this will impact flights in the coming days, at this time we have not been notified of any additional cancellations.”

The impacted flights out of YLW so far include flights to and from Victoria, Calgary and Edmonton.

Additionally, a single WestJet flight that was meant to arrive at the Kamloops airport from Calgary Saturday night has also been cancelled. There doesn't appear to be any impacted flights at the Penticton airport at this time.

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."

WestJet said the strike actions would cancel more than 150 flights, impacting about 20,000 people's travels plans.

"We are extremely outraged at these actions and will hold AMFA 100 per cent accountable for the unnecessary stress and costs incurred as a result,” said WestJet Airlines president Diederik Pen in a release.

Saturday morning, Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said he would be reviewing the matter.

UPDATE: 7:35 a.m.

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.

– The Canadian Press

ORIGINAL: 6:45 a.m.

WestJet airplane mechanics hit the picket lines Friday evening in a surprise move that forced the airline to cancel over 150 flights beginning on Saturday.

The airline says cancellations will impact approximately 20,000 guests with limited recommendation options available. It says in a press release that additional cancellations are anticipated by Saturday morning if the strike is not called off or intervention does not happen immediately.

The abrupt job action by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) comes one day after WestJet expressed relief they had averted a work stoppage thanks to a ministerial order for binding arbitration on Thursday and following two weeks of turbulent wrangling with the union.

The country's second-largest airline has again asked for immediate intervention by the federal labour minister and the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

"We are extremely outraged at these actions and will hold AMFA 100 per cent accountable for the unnecessary stress and costs incurred as a result,” said WestJet Airlines president Diederik Pen in a release.

Beginning June 29, WestJet says it will begin parking aircraft in stations across Canada to facilitate the operation of a significantly reduced schedule by the end of the day.

The union said in a statement its 680-odd WestJet workers walked off the job at 5:30 p.m. MDT, arguing that the carrier's "unwillingness to negotiate with the union made the strike inevitable."

However, WestJet said that because a future collective agreement is now in the hands of the country's labour tribunal, a strike gives the union no leverage and amounts to "pure retaliation."

Earlier this month, the mechanics voted overwhelmingly to reject a tentative deal with the Calgary-based airline, prompting WestJet to seek government intervention and resulting in two 72-hour strike notices issued by the union — the first was rescinded last week.

With the clock ticking down toward a Friday deadline, Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan on Thursday directed the airline and the union into binding arbitration, seemingly steering clear of a work stoppage that would have upended plans for up to 250,000 passengers during one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.

On Thursday night, WestJet and the union both said they would follow the order, with a strike apparently off the table.

"AMFA has 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," WestJet said Thursday.

The reversal on Friday night therefore came as an even bigger shock to executives and travellers alike.

"Is my flight on Sunday in jeopardy?" asked Andrew Wheatley of Edmonton in a social media post.

"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 in a message.

In an update to members, the union negotiating committee cited constitutional protections around collective action.

It also pointed to an order by the industrial relations board that does not explicitly bar strikes and lockouts as the tribunal undertakes arbitration following O'Regan's directive.

"The board finds that the ministerial referral does not have the effect of suspending the right to strike or lockout," the tribunal wrote Thursday.

The union committee insisted that the labour minister had been "silent on the issue."

"Having had no indication that the board would revoke AMFA’s strike notice, AMFA directed its members to cease all work," it said.

Tensions between the two sides had already frayed almost to the breaking point over the past month.

The strike notices forced WestJet to cancel roughly 70 flights since June 20, affecting roughly 10,000 passengers and potentially costing the company millions of dollars. The carrier's decision to start concentrating its 180-plane fleet sought to avoid leaving aircraft in far-flung locations and stranding passengers and crew in the event of a work stoppage.

As negotiations around the contract dragged on in a windowless conference room at a hotel near Toronto's Pearson airport this week, the tone of statements put out by the two sides grew chippier.

The union's bargaining demands showed a failure to act in good faith and its public statements included "inflammatory" and "offensive" elements, claimed an affidavit from one lawyer representing WestJet.

In a letter to a WestJet senior manager on Friday, union national president Bret Oestreich claimed that the airline "engaged in related unlawful conduct" by shutting down further negotiations.

Just over a year ago, the airline found itself in similar circ*mstances after some 1,800 pilots threatened to walk off the job.

WestJet averted a strike after reaching a last-minute deal in the wee hours ahead of a long weekend in May, but not before cancelling more than 230 flights and disrupting the travel plans of thousands of passengers.

– The Canadian Press

Flights out of Kelowna, Kamloops impacted by WestJet mechanics strike - Kelowna News (2024)

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