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WestJet service out of Saskatoon grinds to a halt after surprise long weekend mechanics' strike


WestJet service out of Saskatoon is grinding to a halt on Canada Day long weekend after the airline’s mechanics walked off the job on Friday, citing the company’s “unwillingness to negotiate.”

On Saturday, the Calgary-based airline said it had cancelled 407 flights since Friday in an effort to “maintain stability.” The next day, it announced another 410 cancellations, bringing the total to over 800 grounded flights over the long weekend.

Most WestJet flights arriving to and departing from the Saskatoon airport on Sunday were cancelled.

On Saturday, over half of departing WestJet flights were axed, and all but two incoming flights never made it to YXE.

The airline said it intended to reduce its operating fleet to about 32 "active tails" by Sunday evening.

"WestJet will operate a reduced schedule with the remaining fleet for as long as the labour action continues."

In a statement to CTV News on Sunday, a spokesperson for the Saskatoon airport said travellers should check the status of their flights before showing up.

"They may need to continue to proactively make changes or cancellations to flights," the statement said. "For further details on specific cancelled flights, please contact WestJet directly."

The Airplane Mechanics Fraternal Association, which represents the company’s mechanics, said WestJet’s stubbornness during contract negotiations made the strike “inevitable.”

In a response to the move on Saturday night, WestJet Airlines president Diederik Pen called the strike “reckless.”

“Every flight cancellation we are forced to issue represents hundreds of guests, who are being impacted by the continued reckless actions of this union,” said Pen.

The job action comes after members of the union rejected a deal from WestJet earlier this month and after two weeks of tense negotiations between the two parties.

Following that, the federal government stepped in and mandated WestJet and the union to binding arbitration.

Friday's strike action came as a surprise to many flying with WestJet, leaving travellers to wonder about whether or not they'll be stranded far away from home.

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan, who said the order from the Canada Industrial Relations Board was "clearly inconsistent" with the direction he provided, weighed in again on Saturday, telling both parties to collaborate with the board to get a deal done.

"There’s a lot at stake here. Canadians need this resolved," he said on X.

In WestJet's update on Sunday, Pen said the strike was designed to inflict "maximum damage" to the airline, and he called on the federal government for a clearer ruling on the union's choice to strike while technically engaged in binding arbitration.

"WestJet is in receipt of a binding arbitration order and await[s] urgent clarity from the government that a strike and arbitration cannot exist simultaneously; this is something they have committed to address and like all Canadians we are waiting."

-With Canadian Press files Top Stories

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