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Notice given: WestJet pilots to strike May 19, 3 a.m., if no agreement is reached


WestJet pilots issued a 72-hour strike notice Monday evening.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) issued a news release saying notice was given at 8 p.m.

In response, the airline issued a lockout notice.

The ALPA release said notice could have been given over the weekend but wasn't, as a show of good faith.

"After nine months of negotiating, management still fails to understand today’s labour market conditions, leading to a mass exodus of our pilots in search of better work opportunities, and more will follow if this agreement does not meet our pilots' needs," said Capt. Bernard Lewall, chair of the WestJet ALPA master executive council.

"Without the economic and job security improvements our pilots require, WestJet will be parking planes, as they will not have enough pilots to operate them or accomplish its own growth strategy."

In its own news release, WestJet said it did not take its response of a lockout notice lightly.

"We sincerely regret the inconvenience and uncertainty this continues to cause for our guests," said Alexis von Hoensbroech, WestJet Group CEO.

"It is our responsibility to ensure the safety and complete control of our network at all times, to minimize the risk of stranding our guests, our crews and our aircraft.

"Our commitment and priority remains at the bargaining table, where we will continue to work around the clock to come to a reasonable agreement as soon as possible, in an effort to prevent labour action."

The pilots will be able to - and ALPA says plan to - begin "lawful job action" as of 3 a.m. on May 19.

ALPA says this could include "grounding all aircraft and effectively shutting down operations."

"Flight disruptions are never an ideal outcome, especially given the tremendous support our guests have shown us, and we want to continue being a major contributor to our company's success by helping WestJet realize its growth strategy," Lewall said in Monday evening's news release.

"However, WestJet pilots will withdraw our services to secure a contract that will fix many of the airline's labour problems and make it a career destination for pilots once again.

"We are hopeful today's strike notice filing will provide management with the incentive to recognize just how dire the situation is and reach an agreement with us.

"That's why we will continue to make our negotiators available 24/7 during the remainder of the 72-hour strike notice period."

WestJet said in the meantime, it will preparing for a work stoppage.

The airline said its measures will include "beginning preparations to operate on a reduced schedule" and "proactively managing changes and cancellations and providing flexible change and cancel options."

Canada's passenger rights rules dictate that airlines must offer to book passengers of cancelled flights on a flight with another airline within at least 48 hours of their departure time.

After that point, passengers can receive a refund but may also accept a voucher with the airline.

"Just deal with it as it happens," said Gabor Lukacs, Canadian air passenger rights advocate.

"Once there's a strike, that triggers the obligation by WestJet to rebook passengers and offer alternate transportation. If WestJet fails to comply with that obligation, then I would buy a ticket in a different airline and make WestJet pay for it because they breached their contractual and statutory obligations."

Lukacs suggested documenting all interactions with the airline.

"The quality of your documentation will heavily affect your ability to enforce your rights down the line," he said. "Don't expect the airline to play by the book. They won't, they won't play by the rules, they're going to try to find every possible trick on the books to avoid paying.

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