WestJet says mechanics strike would disrupt long weekend plans for 250,000 travellers

A potential strike by WestJet airplane mechanics would upend travel plans for 250,000 customers over the Canada Day long weekend, the airline says — and cost it millions of dollars.

The Calgary-based carrier has already begun to cancel flights, calling off roughly 25 trips on Thursday and Friday in anticipation of possible job action by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), which has threatened to hit the picket lines as early as 5:30 p.m. MT on Friday.

Already affecting some 3,300 customers, WestJet’s decision to start concentrating its 180-plane fleet seeks to avoid leaving planes in far-flung locations and stranding passengers and crew.

As negotiations toward the union’s first collective agreement drag on in a windowless conference room at a hotel near Toronto’s Pearson airport, the tone of statements put out by the two sides has grown increasingly aggressive.

The mechanics union, which represents about 680 workers — the majority are aircraft maintenance engineers (AMEs) who inspect each active plane daily — has accused WestJet of “brinksmanship” and “false accusations.” It said Wednesday the airline has asked the government to quash its strike notice without notifying its negotiators.

“In its own submission of today, WestJet alleges that an AME strike would place the ‘company and the travelling public in peril at a critical time,”‘ the union negotiating committee said in a release Wednesday.

“It is difficult to conceive of a more inflammatory or offensive comment.”

WestJet deemed the impact of a potential strike “catastrophic.”

“As we quickly approach the July long weekend, it is especially devastating that the strike notice we have received from AMFA forces us to begin cancelling flights and parking aircraft, for the second time in just over a week,” said WestJet Airlines president Diederik Pen in a release.

He called the decision to trigger flight cancellations a “painful” one, noting the fallout for customers.

Plane mechanics first served the carrier with a 72-hour strike notice on June 17, prompting WestJet to cancel nearly 50 flights last week before both sides agreed to resume negotiations. The second strike notice came Tuesday.

Union members voted overwhelmingly to reject a tentative deal earlier this month and have opposed WestJet’s request for intervention by the country’s labour tribunal.

The Canada Industrial Relations Board has said it needs more time and submissions from each party before deciding whether to create a collective agreement via binding arbitration, as proposed by WestJet last week.