WestJet Encore

A WestJet Encore Bombardier Q400 NextGen in Vancouver, B.C., before a quick flight to Victoria, B.C. (Photo: Adrian Edwards via WestJet Facebook)

WestJet Encore pilots headed into 2021 on a positive note despite the ongoing pandemic. They had a finalized collective agreement, steady numbers within the pilot ranks, and a robust committee structure and volunteers in place.

In January, the WestJet Encore Master Executive Council (MEC) announced to the pilots that after long and productive discussions with the company, the parties had reached an agreement on an updated COVID Recovery Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) 3. Benefits of this recovery agreement would be in effective from January 1 through June 30, 2021.

The MEC had surveyed the pilot group and determined that the pilots wanted reasonable mitigations in exchange for COVID-19 sick protections and layoff protections as well as initiating pilot recalls, including a minimum of 115 recalls over the term of MOA 3 with a minimum of 50 recalls no later than April 30, 2021.

However, the staffing situation hit some turbulence in April following the breakdown of MOA negotiations between the WestJet MEC and the company. Ongoing discussions to prevent layoffs from the WestJet/Swoop pilot group came to an unsuccessful conclusion. With a previously negotiated pilot transfer agreement in place, a number of pilots began to bump down to WestJet Encore from either WestJet or Swoop. This resulted in approximately two-thirds of WestJet Encore pilots subsequently facing furlough due to the bump downs. However, by the beginning of 2022 nearly all WestJet Encore pilots furloughed due to the bump downs are expected to be recalled if they wish to return to the airline, while WestJet and Swoop pilots will continue to be recalled to their respective airlines.

This process has been seen as a major step toward eventually building unity among WestJet mainline, Swoop, and WestJet Encore pilots because it’s brought about a better understanding of all three airlines’ operations.

By summer, the MEC reported that a finalized recall process had been negotiated with the company that going forward would be part of the pilots’ collective agreement.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic and before the first round of recalls in 2020, our MEC and company engaged in discussions regarding how any recall process would work, as no process existed in our collective agreement,” said Capt. Patrick Pietrzak, the WestJet Encore MEC chair. “This is when Recall Letter of Understanding 1 came into effect. Our pilots were well aware that our collective agreement didn’t contain provisions for length of recall rights back to the bargaining unit. As part of those initial discussions, we were able to secure 10-year recall rights in the event of furlough from WestJet Encore. If this wasn’t negotiated, furloughed pilots wouldn’t have recall rights back to WestJet Encore other then what’s contained in the Canada Labour Code, which has provisions for only six months of seniority rights. This was critically important for our members as the company began outsourcing other employee group jobs before and during the pandemic.”

WestJet Encore pilots continue to take major strides toward cementing themselves as a mature group within the ALPA Canada hierarchy through a number of measures and initiatives.

“Heading into 2022 the pilot group continues to be in the enviable position of having MEC stability, a strong committee structure, and pilot unity and support from membership,” observed Capt. Gabe Di Nota, the MEC vice chair. “In an effort to improve member access to ALPA resources, we were the first Canadian pilot group to activate the Data Action Report (DART) program. We’ve resumed in-person meetings, continue to utilize pilot surveys, and are actively beginning preparations in anticipation of 2023 negotiations. We look forward to what 2022 has in store for both our pilot group and the airline industry as a whole.”