February 9, 2024
Participants for AMFA:
Bret Oestreich – National President
Will Abbott – Region II Director
Ian Evershed –Airline Representative
Simon Weizman – Member-at-Large Negotiator
Lee Seham – Legal Counsel
Samuel Seham – Legal Counsel
Participants for WestJet Airlines:
Virginia Swindall – Senior Manager, Labour Relations
Alex Hunt – Corporate Counsel – Labour Relations
John Romane – Person Responsible for Maintenance
Sarah Iverson – Labour Relations Advisor
Sara Nuhn – Lead Coordinator, Tech-ops
Darren Cook – Line Maintenance Manager
The AMFA-WestJet Negotiating Committee (the “Committee”) is providing this update to the Membership at WestJet, an Alberta Partnership (“WestJet”). This is the only official authorized source of negotiating communications.
On February 6-8, 2024, WestJet and AMFA representatives met in Calgary, Alberta, to continue negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement. The negotiations were led by AMFA Region II Director Will Abbott and WestJet Senior Manager, Labour Relations Virginia Swindall.
Calgary Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (AMEs) turned out in large numbers both at the negotiations site (Downtown Marriott) and at a pre-negotiations social gathering at the Jetz bar near Calgary International Airport. The AMEs in attendance engaged actively in the formulation of Union contract proposals for Training and Seniority articles. Unfortunately, once again, WestJet insisted on their exclusion from party-to-party negotiations.
The WestJet negotiators’ asperity of tone mellowed substantially from prior sessions, which we attribute, in part, to the participation of federal conciliator and, in part, to the fact that WestJet’s unilateral petition to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) places the parties on a schedule that would permit a strike or lockout as early as April 17, 2024.
The parties nearly reached an agreement on a package that would have resolved five contract articles; however, WestJet’s insistence on reducing Union representatives’ access to resources to a level below those WestJet granted to the Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Association (AMEA) prevented a final accord.
The parties did reach a tentative agreement (TA) on articles addressing Travel Privileges and Seniority. The Travel Privileges article provides that AMEs and AME retirees “shall” receive travel privileges at least equal to those extended to other employee groups. We shall also have a contractual right to flight deck jumpseat access consistent with federal regulation and pilot-in-command discretion.
The Seniority article establishes the basis for calculating seniority (entry into a bargaining unit classification), seniority retention rights where employment is disrupted for certain specific reasons (layoff, suspension, strike/lockout, illness/injury), and a process for addressing seniority-related disputes.
The Seniority article provides that AMEs who accept a permanent management position “shall” forfeit all seniority rights.
Visit by Chief Operating Officer Diederik Pen and Executive Vice-President Angela Avery
Prior to the commencement of negotiations on February 7, 2024, WestJet arranged for a “visit” by Diederik Pen and Angela Avery, which initially consisted of a series of handshakes and person-to-person conversations. In one such conversation, AMFA Region II Director Will Abbott advised Diederik that the Union rejected WestJet’s constant invocation of a “Canadian standard” as a means to diminish AME expectations. Abbott explained that just over twenty (20) years ago, AMFA succeeded in de-coupling AME wages from the wages of unskilled employees in the American industry. Our goal is not to impose an American standard, as such, but to pursue the universal objective of compensation commensurate with the AMEs’ skill and contribution to aviation safety.
As the visit was coming to a close, Ms. Avery centered herself within the room in an indication that she wished to address the entire group. Diederik sharply snapped his fingers twice to silence a subordinate management representative, who was visibly humbled.
Ms. Avery then delivered a familiar speech to the effect that WestJet values the AMEs and that she expects the parties would reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
AMFA General Counsel responded succinctly, setting forth the following points:
- That WestJet had set the parties on an accelerated path toward a strike or lockout, as early as April 17, by unilaterally petitioning for FMCS intervention;
- That WestJet had stolen bargaining unit work, and deprived AMEs of their historic career progression, by transferring the work of Aircraft Maintenance Leads to the newly created OM position;
- That AMFA has filed charges with the CIRB due to WestJet’s persistent refusals to reinstate the status quo ante; and,
- AMFA’s position is that any future strike or lockout will be an Unfair Labour Practice strike/lockout entitling all affected employees to full make whole relief.
When Ms. Avery failed to provide a substantive response, AMFA representatives stated that the visit should be concluded so the AME negotiators could return to work. The WestJet representatives filed into the hallway and an AME representative shut the door firmly behind them.
The time for feel-good visits and anodyne speeches is past. While WestJet may now regret its rash action, it has promised to present a comprehensive proposal by early April. We will then see whether the carrier is willing to provide the AMEs with the compensation and job security they are entitled to.
Thank you to the large number of observers who took the time to attend this week’s sessions. Stay engaged, remain informed, and continue to support the Negotiating Committee, as that support increases the ability to bargain a collective agreement your hard work deserves. Your AMFA representatives will provide regular updates throughout the negotiating process. Thank you for your support.
AMFA-WestJet Negotiating Committee