WestJet strike will continue until there's a deal, union says, as flight cancellation tally passes 830

Airline cancels flights on Monday and Tuesday as mediation between union and management continues

As WestJet flight cancellations soar over the Canada Day long weekend, the head of the union representing the airline's striking mechanics is pledging to continue the work stoppage until a new contract deal is reached.

Bret Oestreich, president of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), told Reuters that the two sides will reconvene with a mediator on Sunday, but as long as talks continue, so will the strike.

"All we want to do is to go back to the table," said Oestreich. "The strike will be in effect until we get an agreement."

In an emailed update to CBC News Sunday afternoon, WestJet said 832 flights had been cancelled so far, including 78 flights scheduled for Monday, July 1, and three flights scheduled for Tuesday, July 2.

AMFA represents about 680 workers at WestJet, including aircraft maintenance engineers, who went on strike Friday after 97 per cent of members rejected a pay deal reached in May.

Oestreich said the two sides are separated by a first-year economic difference of approximately seven per cent, or less than $8 million on a roughly four-year contract.

The workers, whose daily inspections and repairs are essential to airline operations, walked off the job despite a directive for binding arbitration from the federal labour minister.

Both the airline and AMFA have accused the other side of refusing to negotiate in good faith.

As of Sunday morning, the tracking service FlightAware says 77 per cent of the day's trips had been called off, with WestJet topping the global list for cancellations among major airlines Saturday and Sunday.

WestJet Airlines president Diederik Pen has stressed what he calls the "continued reckless actions" of a union that was making "blatant efforts" to disrupt Canadians' travel plans, while the union claimed the Calgary-based company has refused to respond to its latest counterproposal.

During a news conference at WestJet headquarters in Calgary on Saturday morning, both Pen and the airline's chief executive officer, Alexis von Hoensbroech, repeatedly said they were outraged and devastated by the strike, with von Hoensbroech calling it "totally absurd."

"The reason why you actually do a strike is because you may need to exercise pressure on the bargaining table. If there is no bargaining table, it makes no sense," he said.

He said that, as a result of the actions, the situation "will only grow in difficulty and magnitude."

"So this is a very destructive thing, basically done by a rogue U.S. union that's trying to make inroads into Canada and taking some practices in here that are very, very unusual," said von Hoensbroech.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Sunday afternoon, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe called on the federal government to "end the work stoppage today."

"With hundreds of flights cancelled and tens of thousands of Canadians in limbo, the federal government must take action to ensure that work continues throughout the binding arbitration process," said Moe.

Those sentiments were echoed by Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. She urged Ottawa on Sunday to "make the expectation clear that work must continue throughout binding arbitration."