File photo.

Comox Valley businesses await word on potential WestJet pilot strike

With the news Thursday that WestJet pilots could be striking in less than two weeks, the Comox Valley Record reached out to a few local businesses that would be impacted by a potential pilot strike by the Calgary-based airline.

WestJet’s pilots are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). On Thursday, union members voted 91 per cent in favour of strike action if a contract agreement with WestJet’s management cannot be reached by May 19.

Read More: WestJet flights could be interrupted as pilots vote in favour of strike action

Comox Valley Airport CEO Fred Bigelow said he is hopeful the two sides can reach an agreement before any impact on YQQ passengers. WestJet is one of the Comox Valley Airport’s main airlines, with multiple daily flights to and from Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary.

“We just remain hopeful they can achieve some kind of an agreement that both sides are happy with and keeps everyone — including our travelling public — going where they want to go,” said Bigelow.

“This is a matter between WestJet and its staff and we do wish them well. For our passengers, for the air crew involved, for all the WestJet staff.”

Susan Davies, the manager of Square 1 Travel Service in downtown Courtenay, echoed similar sentiments as Bigelow. She said the agency hopes there isn’t going to be a strike.

“Really, our hands are tied until the airline gives us the go-ahead or authorization to make changes as necessary,” she said.

“Usually, it’s on a day-to-day basis. We can’t be looking after someone a week down the road because a strike could be settled at that time.”

Davies said she remembers when Air Canada pilots went on strike about a decade ago and said it led to busier workloads for a short time, as travel agents scrambled to assist passengers looking to re-book or rearrange travel plans.

“It had to have been 10 years ago,” she said of the Air Canada strike. “It didn’t last a long time but it did impact a few passengers at the time.

“We would end up being very busy trying to make alternative arrangements for them, changing their plans or cancelling things if they need to be cancelled.

Next steps

Negotiations between ALPA and WestJet management will continue next week in Halifax. However, Thursday’s vote allows WestJet’s pilots to walk off the job before the end of the month. The union has said it would not go on strike before the busy Victoria Day long weekend.

“The goal is — and always has been — to secure a fair collective agreement that brings stability to the airline, and not to strike,” said Capt. Rob McFadyen, chairman of WestJet’s ALPA Master Executive Council.

McFadyen said the strong results of the strike vote and a high turnout at ALPA’s informational picketing event earlier this week “should provide management the added incentive it needs to bring serious proposals to the bargaining table that address our concerns.”

—With files from Katya Slepian/Black Press

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