May 25, 2018 7:33 pm
Updated: May 25, 2018 11:37 pm

WestJet strike averted as airline, pilots agree to settlement process

WATCH ABOVE: WestJet and the Air Line Pilots Association agreed on a settlement process on Friday evening, avoiding a potential strike.

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WestJet pilots won’t be hitting the picket lines as the airline and the Air Line Pilots Association agreed on a settlement process on Friday evening.

“The parties have agreed to mediation, and if required, final and binding arbitration,” WestJet said in a news release.

The settlement will be reached through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The two parties will move to binding arbitration if required, WestJet said.

“We will continue negotiations,” WestJet CEO Ed Sims told reporters Friday night.

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“We will move into arbitration after a matter of weeks, but I think the most important news of all tonight is that the threat of strike action has been removed for WestJet guests.”

Pilots had voted in favour of strike action on May 10, a move that came after months of failed negotiations.

WestJet said the agreement means travellers can “book and travel with confidence.”

“For me, that is the most important message that we can send [to] both the country and the 70,000 travellers who travel with WestJet every single day,” Sims said.

“I think today was a positive move,” said Rob McFadyen, chairman of the Master Executive Council for the WestJet pilots. “As we’ve always said before, WestJet pilots’ intent has never been to strike.

“We were under an imminent threat of a lockout and that position we were in at that time, we decided the best move for our pilot group and for the WestJet passengers would be to come to the settlement that we had reached with the assistance of the federal labour minister.”

Watch below: WestJet, Air Line Pilots Association reach agreement to avoid potential work stoppage

Sims explained to reporters what he believed led to Friday’s breakthrough.

“What got us to this point, I think, is a well thought-through negotiating process, a rational commitment to the negotiating process from both sides, I think a high degree of moderation in terms of communication, a commitment not to negotiate in public — which I think has been fundamental to reaching today’s agreement — and… the well-timed support from the government’s mediation services.”

McFadyen also acknowledged the federal government’s role in helping to reach Friday’s agreement when asked how much of a factor the government was.

“I think it was quite large. We had the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service here for the last several weeks and just recently we had Minister [Patricia] Hajdu come out which was a large part of us getting to I believe the agreement that we came to today.”

According to Sims, the looming threat of a strike impacted bookings and cost the company “tens of millions of dollars,” not including the hit on its share price.

READ MORE: WestJet pilot strike could impact economy, aviation expert says

“After four weeks of operating under a strike threat that has been very damaging to the organization, both financially and to our reputation, I could not sit back and watch the organization effectively slow-baked into this position.”

The planned launch of WestJet’s ultra-low cost carrier, Swoop, has been a source of debate between pilots and the airline.

Earlier this year, the union won a challenge to the company’s proposed policy of offering pilots a leave of absence if they fly for Swoop.

ALPA argued the policy was a significant change in the company’s terms of employment and an interference with the union’s right to represent the pilots.

Sims said the Swoop issue will be part of the arbitrator’s final agreement.

“The immediate stage of the process is that we continue to sit around the negotiating table as we have done for many months now,” he said. “The negotiating will conclude with what is called a binding arbitration. So in other words, an arbitrator will determine the values of each case and will reach agreement. So that will conclude in a formal settlement.”

-With files from The Canadian Press

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