Air Canada pilots look to start bargaining early after WestJet pay hike

Air Canada pilots look to start bargaining early after WestJet pay hike
Photo credit: Nicholas Pescod

The pilots union at the country’s biggest airline has opened the gate to bargaining ahead of time — as early as this summer.

Air Canada said Tuesday its pilots group has triggered an option to launch negotiations around a new collective agreement a year early.

The move comes after some 1,800 pilots at WestJet and budget subsidiary Swoop settled on a tentative deal this month that secures a 24 per cent wage increase over four years.

SEE MAY 19 STORY: WestJet ramping up after reaching deal with pilots, but not before cancelling flights

Since landing on an agreement in 2014, Air Canada pilots have received a two per cent pay hike each year.

The airline said the current deal will remain in force until Sept. 29, but that its provisions will still apply after that date.

“The current agreement, which has been in place for nearly a decade, is a testimony of the productive relationship we have with our pilots. We expect the upcoming negotiations to be conducted in this same spirit,” said Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick in an email.

The Air Canada Pilots Association, whose 4,500-odd members two weeks ago joined the Air Line Pilots Association which WestJet flight crews also belong to, can kick off negotiations with a notice to bargain as early as June 1.

The merger means 95 per cent of professional Canadian pilots are represented by a single union, according to Charlene Hudy, the Air Canada union’s council chair.

The agreement between WestJet and its pilots will serve as a benchmark for other aviation groups, ranging from flight crews to flight attendants, said aviation consultant Rick Erickson.

“I suspect that the Air Canada pilot union probably has the same documents sitting in front of them,” he said in an interview Friday.

Negotiations could also come as airlines face intense domestic and cross-border competition from ultra-low-cost carriers such as Flair Airlines and Lynx Air, as Canadian airlines look to return to profit after hundreds of millions of dollars in losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labour shortages continue to plague the aviation industry as the sector emerges from the pandemic and the past year’s travel turmoil, with a dearth of workers in areas ranging from air traffic control to ground handling.

In March, Delta Air Lines pilots secured a deal that includes a 34 per cent pay hike over four years.

American Airlines pilots authorized a strike amid contract negotiations earlier this month before reaching a preliminary deal last week.

United Airlines pilots are also in the middle of talks, pushing for even higher pay than their Delta counterparts, as well as comparable quality-of-life provisions. Those might include clauses that prevent airlines from requiring pilots to accept assignments on days off.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2023.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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