In May 2018, WestJet pilots, along with other ALPA members, stand in solidarity outside of WestJet headquarters in Calgary, Alb., during the pilots’ first-ever informational picketing event.
As 2018 began, WestJet pilots were hopeful that within the year, they’d reach their first collective agreement. No one, however, could have predicted what events would unfold in the journey for a contract with WestJet management.
“Since joining ALPA, we’ve been moving at a breakneck pace,” said Capt. Rob McFadyen, the pilots’ first Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “We couldn’t have done it without the tremendous guidance and support of ALPA.”
WestJet’s MEC leaders and other pilot volunteers remained keenly focused on reaching a fair and reasonable collective agreement to meet the priorities of the pilot group and bring stability to the airline. The pilot group’s top priority was job security, especially with regard to securing flying for Swoop, the company’s recently established ultra-low-cost carrier.
In February, WestJet and WestJet Encore pilots filed an unfair labour practice complaint and application for an interim order with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB), asserting that management violated numerous provisions of the Canada Labour Code. Within a month, the CIRB sided with the pilots by issuing an interim order against the airline. The CIRB’s decision included a cease-and-desist order regarding management’s attempted pilot hiring practices for Swoop.
A filing for conciliation with the Ministry of Labour would soon follow, allowing the pilots the government intervention—through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service—needed to help reach their first contract. While the Ministry of Labour directed significant resources to assist with bargaining throughout the 60-day conciliation process, the pilot group exercised numerous other steps to move negotiations forward.
On April 20, 2018, the one-year anniversary of WestJet pilots formally seeking ALPA representation, the pilots received a substantial financial boost to their bargaining power with a $2 million grant from ALPA’s Major Contingency Fund. In May, hundreds of ALPA pilots descended upon WestJet’s Calgary, Alb., headquarters during the company’s annual general meeting, marking WestJet pilots’ first-ever informational picket. Days later, the pilots sent another strong message to management with an overwhelming 91 percent “yes” vote in support of a lawful job action or a strike.
It wasn’t long after the strike vote went public that WestJet pilots and management reached a settlement process, where both parties agreed to mediation followed by binding interest arbitration, if required. Which it was.
In June—before Swoop took its first flight—William Kaplan, the arbitrator, addressed the pilots’ job security issue with an interim award in which WestJet and Swoop agreed that they were a “common employer” and that WestJet pilots would fly Swoop airplanes. He also determined that the seniority of pilots already hired at Swoop would be based on their date of hire. Kaplan also issued an additional interim award addressing positions held by Swoop pilots as well as WestJet pilots holding captain bypass positions at Swoop.
In November, by unanimous vote, the MEC representatives elected Capt. Dave Colquhoun the MEC’s new chair and Capt. Rob Jackson vice chair to lead the pilot group through the final stages of negotiations and implementation of the new contract.
In the closing days of 2018, Kaplan delivered his award to address the remaining outstanding issues of the pilots’ collective agreement.
“This first WestJet pilot contract will serve as the basis for all of our future contracts,” Colquhoun said. “Our Negotiating Committee has worked diligently to make it as strong a foundation as possible. We now have legally binding work rules, scope protection, and a well-defined grievance process—the building blocks for a strong agreement—and a seat at the negotiating table. In 2019, we’ll focus on enhancing our formal relationship with WestJet management to effectively deal with any external challenges to our company’s success, all while working to obtain further improvements for our pilot group."