WestJet mechanics talking again, strike off the table for now

Possibility of binding arbitration is on the table in ongoing dispute
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The threat of a strike by WestJet airplane mechanics is off the table — for now — after both sides agreed to resume negotiations, but not before nearly 50 flights were cancelled. People look out at a WestJet plane at Calgary International Airport in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The threat of a strike by WestJet airplane mechanics is off the table — for now — after both sides agreed to resume negotiations, but not before nearly 50 flights were cancelled.

The Canada Industrial Relations Board 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 earlier this week.

That request to the labour tribunal prompted a 72-hour strike notice from the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association on Monday evening.

The labour board also declined to bar job action for the time being, landing the airline back at square one — the bargaining table — after a gambit that included cutting off talks with the union temporarily.

In anticipation of a potential strike, WestJet called off 45 flights on Wednesday and Thursday as it began to concentrate and park its 180-plane fleet, affecting thousands of passengers.

In overnight statements, both sides said they will return to the table to try to sort out their differences around a contract for the 670-plus mechanics — their first with the Calgary-based airline.

Union members voted overwhelmingly to reject a tentative deal last week and voiced opposition to WestJet’s request for arbitration.

By Thursday morning, the union had rescinded its strike notice and said it will not trigger job action “while, in its determination, bargaining remains productive.”

WestJet said it hopes to hammer out a resolution without further service disruption and aims to resume normal operations as quickly as possible.

“We recognize the impact the initial cancellations had on our guests and our people, and we sincerely appreciate their patience and understanding during this time,” WestJet Airlines president Diederik Pen said.

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