ontario news watch

How arbitration plans went awry ahead of WestJet mechanics strike

An order from the federal labour minister to send WestJet and its plane mechanics into binding arbitration unexpectedly resulted in a strike on one of the busiest travel weekends of the summer.

The work stoppage, which ended late Sunday night, raises questions about the dispute resolution process and how consumers should respond to the threat of an airline strike.

Ian Evershed, a mechanic and union representative who helped lead the negotiations, says Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan had the power to bar a strike as part of his directive to the country’s labour tribunal to launch binding arbitration.

In their public statements, both the airline and the government seemed to presume a strike was off the table following the order, but a ruling Friday by the Canada Industrial Relations Board said the union’s 680 WestJet workers could still walk off the job because the directive did not explicitly suspend that right.

WestJet and the federal government were caught flat-footed, as were the roughly 150,000 travellers booked on the more than 1,100 flights cancelled by the Calgary-based carrier since Thursday.

Marty Firestone, president of insurance firm Travel Secure Inc., says that while most travellers could receive refunds, those with costs tied to hotel or other flight bookings might not get that money back without coverage for trip cancellation or interruption.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2024.

The Canadian Press