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WestJet has reached an agreement with its mechanics to end a strike that disrupted the travel plans of tens of thousands of travellers over the Canada Day long weekend.

WestJet has reached an agreement with its mechanics to end a strike that disrupted the travel plans of tens of thousands of travellers over the Canada Day long weekend.

A press release on the company’s website said there would continue to be flight disruptions over the next week as the aircraft returned to service.

“The damage to Canadians and our airline is enormous, and a swift resolution was necessary. We are not taking victory laps over this outcome, but we will sleep better tonight knowing that further damage has been prevented,” airline president Diederik Pen said in the press release issued late Sunday.

In its own press release, the Airplane Mechanics Fraternal Association called on its members to immediately return to work until the preliminary agreement is voted on.

“We believe this outcome would not have been possible without the strike, but regret the disruption and inconvenience it caused to travellers during the Canada Day holiday,” the union said in a statement.

“We are happy that the strike only lasted 48 hours and that operations can now return to normal.

Around 680 employees, whose daily inspections and repairs are essential for the airline’s operations, went on strike on Friday evening despite an order from the Minister of Labor for a binding arbitration procedure.

Since Thursday, WestJet has canceled 829 flights scheduled for the period up to Monday – the busiest travel weekend of the season, the airline said.

The vast majority of flights on Sunday were cancelled as WestJet reduced its fleet from 180 aircraft to 32 active planes, topping the list of cancellations among major airlines worldwide over the weekend.

Trevor Temple-Murray was one of thousands of customers who rushed to rebook their trips after they were cancelled less than a day before.

“We just have to wait and see,” said the Lethbridge, Alabama, resident, who was waiting in line in the parking lot of Victoria Airport, trying to get a flight to Calgary. His wife and two-year-old son were sitting next to him in the car.

Their 6:05 p.m. flight had been cancelled and they would not find out until that evening whether the flight scheduled for the next day at 7:00 a.m. would take place.

“There are a lot of angry people there,” said Temple-Murray, pointing to the terminal.

Nearby, 10th-grade exchange student Marina Cebrian said she was supposed to be back home in Spain early Sunday, but after three flight cancellations, she will not return to her family until Tuesday.

“It’s disturbing,” she said. “I was supposed to be home today, about seven hours ago, but I’m not.”

Both WestJet and the union had accused the other side of refusing to engage in serious negotiations.

The airline’s president had stressed that the union “continues to act recklessly” because it is making “blatant efforts” to disrupt Canadians’ travel plans. The association claimed that the Calgary-based company had refused to respond to a counter-proposal. In an update to members on Sunday, it said the mechanics were “victims of WestJet’s vicious PR campaign that they are lawbreakers.” The union spoke of “slander” against the workers in connection with their right to strike.

This is the second preliminary agreement in this dispute.

After two weeks of tense talks between the two parties, union members overwhelmingly rejected a tentative deal with WestJet in mid-June.

“We will not see any further industrial action as a result of this dispute as both parties have agreed to resolve the contract through arbitration in the event of failed ratification,” Pen said in the press release announcing the agreement.

As the clock counted down to the strike ending on Friday, the impasse prompted Employment Minister Seamus O’Regan to intervene, ordering the airline and union to undergo binding arbitration in the country’s employment tribunal.

This procedure is usually used to circumvent a work stoppage. WestJet apparently agreed, saying the union had “confirmed that it will comply with the order.”

“In this context, there will be no strike or lockout and the airline will no longer cancel flights,” the airline said on Thursday.

The mechanics disagreed. The union’s negotiating committee said it would “follow the Minister’s instructions and instruct its members to refrain from any unlawful industrial action.” Less than 24 hours later, the workers were on the picket line.

A decision by the Canada Industrial Relations Board appeared to confirm the legality of their actions, regardless of the mediation protocols.

O’Regan said the next day that the panel’s decision was “clearly inconsistent” with his instruction, but later added that he respected the panel’s independence. He met with both sides on Saturday evening.

In a statement to the court last week, WestJet’s lawyers said the union had sought “an unreasonable and extortionate result” and had deliberately scheduled the strike date at the height of the summer travel season.

The union said its wage demands would cost WestJet less than $8 million on top of what the company offered for the first year of the collective agreement – the first contract between the two sides. It acknowledged that the gains would exceed compensation for industry peers across Canada and be more in line with U.S. counterparts.

WestJet said it offered a 12.5 percent pay increase in the first year of the contract and a cumulative 23 percent pay increase for the remainder of the five-and-a-half-year term.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2024.

The Canadian Press