Dozens of Westjet and Swoop pilots stage information pickets outside three Canadian airports
Members of the Air Line Pilots Association upset that company is shifting capacity to ultra low-cost subsidiary
Dozens of Westjet pilots staged an information picket at major Canadian airports Sunday, accusing their company of trying to undercut their union and drive down wages.
At issue is Swoop Airlines launching service from Toronto Sunday, a market it has never served before. Swoop is an ultra low-cost subsidiary of Westjet.
“We have partnered with them in good faith to take pay cuts and help them weather this crisis,” said Carey Stacey, a Westjet pilot and union member. “They’ve taken our routes, our airplanes, and shifting it to the lowest paid division of our airline.”
Stacey is a captain with 16 years at Westjet. She was one of about 50 Westjet pilots staging a silent picket at Vancouver International Airport. Hundreds of other pilots staged similar actions in Calgary and Toronto.
“There’s a lot of anger about this,” she said. “This is a hard-fought scope protection that we have in our contract. And we believe that they’re attacking our contract, taking liberty with our scope provisions in our contract to do that flying.”
Westjet struck a deal with pilots to cut wages and flying hours to avoid layoffs.
The two sides have fought over Swoop’s role and labour composition since 2018. In June of that year, an arbitrator ruled that Swoop planes would be flown by Westjet pilots. But he ruled they would be paid less and work in inferior conditions.
Stimulating demand in Canada’s largest market
For Westjet, the move is all about serving a price-sensitive part of the market.
Swoop flies on an ultra low-cost model where passenger pay for each service separately.
“Swoop is important to the WestJet Group’s future, and, as Canada’s leading ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC), the airline is well-positioned to serve price-sensitive travellers while stimulating demand in Canada’s largest market,” said Westjet spokesperson Lauren Stewart in an email. “After a drop in guest traffic of up to 95 per cent and with recovery slower than anticipated, stimulating demand in our industry is critical for our group’s survival. Toronto is our country’s largest air travel market and every guest who flies with WestJet, Encore or Swoop is a win for our group, assisting in our recovery and supporting our collective future.”
“We believe that taking over the mainline routes out of Toronto-Pearson right now is a massive overreach,” said Stacey. “We can do that flying, we’ve already taken the pay cuts to do that flying.”
Swoop is starting with 18 weekly flights out of Toronto to Abbotsford, British Columbia, Kelowna, and Halifax. The ULCC’s aircraft are also replacing five weekly Westjet flights between Toronto and Edmonton.
“We are excited to be able to bring our ultra-low cost carrier model to Toronto and serve Canada’s largest city,” said Swoop President Charles Duncan in a statement. “We know that Canadians are cautious about travelling, and with the significant health and safety measures we have put in place, travellers can rest assured that their safety is our top priority.”
A slap in the face
Stacey sees the Toronto launch as a part of a long-term plan by Westjet to shift more flying to Swoop.
“A lot of pilots had to take downgrades to first officers,” said Carey, pointing to one of the measures used to help Westjet weather the pandemic. “They’re the ones that took the biggest hit to their pay in good faith. Trying to help out the airline.
“We feel that this is a slap in the face.”
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