Union for Canada’s second biggest airline says pilots issue 72-hour strike notice

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The union for Canada’s second-biggest airline have issued a 72-hour strike notice to WestJet, and they warn the airline could be shut down before the weekend.

The Air Line Pilots Association said in a statement late Monday that pilots plan to begin lawful job action early Friday, which “could include grounding all aircraft and effectively shutting down operations.”

The Calgary, Alberta-based airline flies to more than 110 destinations including the United States, Central America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. It has a fleet of more than 180 aircraft.

The WestJet Group responded with a lockout notice, saying a work stoppage could occur as early as Friday at 3 a.m. MDT (0900 GMT).

“The decision to issue a lockout notice, in response to the actions taken by the union today, was not one that was made lightly, and we sincerely regret the inconvenience and uncertainty this continues to cause for our guests,” WestJet Group CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said in a statement.

The statement noted the lockout notice doesn’t mean a work stoppage will occur, and that both parties remain at the bargaining table. But it said the company would “begin preparations to operate a reduced schedule” and warned it would be “a significant reduction from WestJet and Swoop’s current networks.”

WestJet said that travelers impacted by flight delays or cancellations will be refunded or reaccommodated as applicable.

The union represents about 1,600 flight crew at WestJet and subsidiary Swoop, and had warned Friday that a walkout could come as early as this week as talks dragged on.

The workers’ issues revolve around job protection, pay and scheduling. WestJet said its pilots are among the best paid in Canada, but that a contract on par with those recently secured by some U.S. pilot groups would be financially unworkable and put the company’s future at risk.

The union said in its statement that it could have filed the strike notice over the weekend, but in a bid to keep the airline operating, it agreed to extend negotiations.

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