This story was updated on Friday, June 9 at 12:55 p.m. EST
WestJet and Swoop’s pilots, which are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), ratified their new four-year employment contract on Friday (June 9) with “industry-leading” pay increases, strong job-security protections, and scheduling and quality-of-life improvements.
According to a press release issued by the ALPA, of the 95 per cent of eligible pilots who cast ballots, 87 per cent voted in favour of the agreement.
This “goes a long way to recognizing the value and expertise the pilots bring to their airline and will help solve many of WestJet’s pilot attraction and retention issues,” the ALPA said.
The deal closes what has been a long and turbulent chapter in the WestJet Group’s relationship with its pilot union.
Last month, after weeks of failed negotiations, pilots at WestJet and Swoop were hours away from taking job action until a last-minute tentative agreement was reached in the wee morning hours of Friday, May 19 – just as the long weekend was about to begin.
Though some WestJet customers were able to get to their destinations, many faced disruptions as the airline, anticipating a strike, cancelled hundreds of flights in the days and hours leading up to the deal.
Pilots representing both WestJet and discount carrier Swoop voted in favour of a strike mandate in April.
They were seeking better job protections, benefits and wages that brought them in line with their U.S. counterparts.
“Since negotiations began, we have been clear that our experienced and dedicated pilots deserve a contract that delivers on the goals of better job security, enhanced compensation, and more flexible schedules to allow for a better work/life balance,” said Capt. Bernard Lewall, chair of the WestJet ALPA Master Executive Council (MEC), in a statement Friday (June 9).
“We believe this contract, which is consistent with collective agreements other ALPA-represented pilot groups are signing with their employers, does just that.”
As revealed in a tentative agreement summary that PAX obtained, WestJet pilots are set to receive a 24 per cent pay bump over four years.
The summary also notes a cumulative 8.5 per cent boost to hourly wages over the remainder of the contract, from 2024 through 2026.
Swoop to be integrated into mainline
As well, as PAX previously reported, the agreement includes a term that would require Swoop's flight operations to be fully integrated into WestJet’s mainline by October 2024.
Swoop pilots are paid less than those who fly for mainline WestJet. And, with WestJet’s recent takeover of Sunwing, there were worries within the union that the merger could result in yet another class of pilots, working on a different pay scale.
WestJet, not long after the ALPA announced the ratified agreement on Friday, confirmed in a press release that it anticipates a full integration of Swoop into its mainline operations by the end of October.
“To avoid traveller impact, Swoop will operate its existing network through to the end of its published schedule on October 28,” WestJet said.
Swoop employees, meanwhile, will move to WestJet.
"The WestJet Group is confident in the outcome of this negotiated decision and the path forward to integrate Swoop into WestJet's operations," said Alexis von Hoensbroech, WestJet Group’s CEO, in a statement. "We continue our strategy toward providing reliable, affordable travel across the WestJet Group, leveraging the valuable experiences and learnings from the Swoop business model. This integration will enhance our ability to serve a broader spectrum of guests. Instead of only 16 aircraft serving the ultra-low-cost market, each aircraft, in our 180-strong fleet, will offer ultra-affordable travel options through to a premium inflight experience."
Swoop, an ultra low-cost carrier owned by WestJet, was announced in September of 2017 and began flights in June of 2018.
Its 16-aircraft fleet is made up of Boeing 737-800 next generation and 737-MAX series, which fly to 32 destinations in Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Swoop flights, at the start of 2022, were also made available to the trade for booking WestJet Vacations packages.
Since pilot negotiations began last September, WestJet management has “repeatedly touted its plans for their future growth strategy,” the ALPA added
“With ratification, the pilots have sent a strong message that they remain committed to being a major contributor to WestJet’s success and helping the company recognize its future growth plans.”
Capt. Lewall said the agreement “will go a long way” to solving many of the airline’s labour issues, and bring more stability to our operations.
“I look forward to seeing our airline grow and become a career destination for pilots, once again, which will benefit everyone from our company to our passengers and fellow employees,” he said.
The contract goes into effect July 1, 2023, with retroactive pay to Jan. 1, 2023, and will expire Dec. 31, 2026.
This is a developing story.