WestJet Strike Paralyzes Canadian Air Travel, Grounds 49,000 Passengers

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Canada was hit by a wave of jet-set disruption, as the nation’s second largest airline, WestJet, made the startling announcement that 407 flights were cancelled. The unexpected halt affected a staggering 49,000 passengers left grounded, following an abrupt strike declared by the maintenance workers union.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association declared its members initiated the strike action on Friday evening. They traced the root cause as WestJet’s obdurate nature and persistent refusal to negotiate with the union, consequently, making the strike an unfortunate – yet unavoidable – outcome.

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This unexpected upheaval in both the international and domestic flight schedules came on the heels of a ministerial mandate issued by the federal government. This mandate, issued Thursday, required binding arbitration following a fortnight of turbulent negotiations attempting to secure a new deal with the union.

Despite the chaos, WestJet assured the public that it would persevere with its decision to park aircraft through the long weekend ending with Canada Day on Monday. Projections from the airline suggest that from its fleet of about 200 aircraft, they anticipate operating a slim 30 aircraft by Sunday evening.

With all eyes on WestJet’s management, CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech laid the responsibility for the current predicament squarely on a “rogue union from the U.S.,” insinuating their hidden agenda of establishing more influence in Canada. According to Von Hoensbroech, negotiations with the union were brought to a rapid close when the government directed the argument towards binding arbitration.

He believes that absent a bargaining table, the strike is rendered moot. “The reason you actually strike is to put pressure on the bargaining table,” he said. “In its absence, a strike is just nonsensical. It shouldn’t be happening at all.” He also pointed out that the union had declined a contract proposal that would have made the airline’s mechanics top earners in the country.

The union, for its part, made reference in an update to its members about a lacking explicit order from the Canada Industrial Relations Board that deters strikes or lockouts during the arbitration process.

One WestJet aircraft maintenance engineer picketing on Saturday, Sean McVeigh, suggested striking was the only way to coerce the airline towards ‘respectful negotiation.’ Expressing regret over the disruption to passenger plans, he quipped that the real reason behind the cancelled flights was WestJet’s refusal to respectfully negotiate. He, along with approximately 20 others on the picket line, pleaded to be appreciated financially for their work.

Meanwhile, two disgruntled passengers Samin Sahan and Samee Jan shared their disappointment of a much planned trip to Calgary with extended family put on hold. Despite receiving notice that their flight was rescheduled for Monday, the family went to the terminal hoping for clarity.

Sahan voiced his annoyance against the company’s disregard for its customers and the detrimental effects on their own operations as well. Jan bemoaned the unfortunate scenario simply stating it as ‘sad’.