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Large Majority Of Encore Pilots Vote To Strike

Contract negotiations at WestJet's Encore regional division are at a standstill. The pilots union says it is ready to go on strike.

WestJet Encore De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400 NextGen (Photo: Eric Salard, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

There are dark clouds on the horizon for WestJet Encore, the fully-owned regional subsidiary of the WestJet Group, the second-largest airline group in Canada.

The group’s management and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) representing Encore’s 322 pilots have been in negotiations for the new contract since September, but the positions have remained quite distant, to the point that on April 2, just one week into the cooling off period called by the federal mediator before any strike could occur, a strike-authorization vote saw overwhelming support in favor of industrial action in case it is needed.

“Of the 89 percent of pilots that took part to the […] vote, 97 percent voted in favor of a strike,” said ALPA in a press release.

Career Progression and Seniority

Encore pilots have been complaining of working conditions that are some of the worst in the Canadian airline industry, leading to a very high rate of attrition which in turn has caused more challenging schedules and fatigue issues for the remaining staff. In addition to that, the current contract does not provide a clear growth path within the group for Encore pilots.

“Without drastic improvement on our next contract, there will be little stopping WestJet Encore pilots from continuing to seek better employment opportunities elsewhere. That’s why we are looking for an industry-standard contract comparable to some of our regional colleagues across Canada,” said Capt. Carin Kenny, chair of the WestJet Encore ALPA Master Executive Council. “We are here to fight for a contract that will once again make working within the WestJet Group a career goal. Unfortunately, despite management’s platitudes, our proposals continue to fall on deaf ears.”

The cooling off period will end on Apr. 14, and if an agreement is not reached by that date Encore pilots will be able to walk off their jobs as of 72 hours later, therefore leading to potential disruptions to Encore’s schedule as of April 17.

Last January, ALPA filed a request for conciliation assistance with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a move that is aimed at obtaining the assistance of the Federal Government in the bargaining talks. The main stumbling blocks in the negotiation were career progression, seniority, and career recognition. When discussing the working conditions for staff at an airline’s regional unit, it is not uncommon that the most contentious issues concern the progression mechanisms within the various units of the group and especially how seniority lists are compiled.

Ready for the Fight

In February, Encore pilots received $1 million from ALPA’s Major Contingency Fund in support of their industrial action, and further payment may be likely should the strike go ahead later this month.

WestJet issued a statement following the April 2 vote in support of the strike: “A strike authorization vote is a common step by unions in context of the overall labor negotiation process and does not mean a strike will occur,” said Diederik Pen, President of WestJet Airlines and Group Chief Operating Officer. “We are steadfast in our commitment to reach an agreement with ALPA that addresses the unique concerns of our Encore pilots, is competitive within Canada’s airline industry and ensures we have a long-term sustainable future so that we can continue to operate critical air service for millions of Canadians, while providing meaningful employment for thousands at the WestJet Group.”

Vanni Gibertini


  • Vanni Gibertini

    Vanni fell in love with commercial aviation during his undergraduate studies in Statistics at the University of Bologna, when he prepared his thesis on the effects of deregulation on the U.S. and European aviation markets. Then he pursued his passion further by obtaining a Master’s Degree in Air Transport Management at Cranfield University in the U.K. followed by holding several management positions at various start-up carriers in Europe (Jet2, SkyEurope, Silverjet). After moving to Canada, he was Business Development Manager for IATA for nine years before turning to his other passion: sports writing.

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