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WestJet employees in Calgary and Vancouver could be on strike by next Wednesday

Wages are the key issue in negotiations
The union representing more than 700 WestJet employees at airports in Calgary and Vancouver say they have voted to support a strike if they cannot reach a new contract with the airline. Westjet employees wearing masks wait for passengers at the Calgary Airport in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — WestJet workers at the Calgary and Vancouver airports have voted in support of a strike if they cannot reach a deal with the airline.

Unifor says the local representing more than 700 baggage and customer service agents among other employees voted to strike by 98 per cent, and could walk off the job as early as July 27.

Wages are the key issue in talks over the group’s first collective agreement with the carrier, Unifor spokesman Scott Doherty said Wednesday.

“The pay scale has not been increased for more than five years, making WestJet’s wages among the lowest in the Canadian aviation industry and no match for soaring inflation,” he said in a statement.

The union also highlighted a “pressure cooker atmosphere,” stating that workers have endured verbal abuse and physical threats from travellers whose flights were delayed or cancelled by the carrier.

“We are burnt out,” said Sherwin Antonio, a member of Unifor Local 531’s bargaining committee in Calgary, where talks are slated to continue through the week.

WestJet executive vice-president Angela Avery said the strike vote is a “common step” in the negotiation process and was “not unexpected.”

“We remain focused on successfully negotiating an agreement that provides value to our airport employees,” she said in a statement.

“As the airline rebuilds, the majority of its airports employees have been with the company for less than one year, and the vast majority of more tenured airport employees have received increases through the existing pay step structure, in addition to a Canadian industry leading variable compensation.”

Before taking any strike action, Unifor must serve WestJet with 72 hours notice.

The strike vote comes as airlines and airports have struggled to cope with the massive resurgence in travel this summer following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, which uncorked two years of pent-up demand amid ongoing staffing shortages and bottlenecked global flight networks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2022.

The Canadian Press