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Members of the Air Line Pilots Association demonstrate amid contract negotiations outside the WestJet headquarters in Calgary, on March 31.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

A labour dispute at WestJet Airlines, Canada’s second-largest carrier, could disrupt travel plans for thousands of people over the long weekend.

Late Monday night, the union representing WestJet pilots said 1,850 of its members could stop flying early Friday morning, as the Air Line Pilots Association pushes for a new collective agreement. The Calgary-based airline responded with a notice that it plans to lock out the employees on the same day.

Explainer: How WestJet pilots’ strike notice could affect your travel plans

Both sides said they would continue to negotiate ahead of the deadline.

Tim Perry, the union president and a WestJet pilot, said the two sides have made “significant progress” but remain far apart on major items.

Mr. Perry said the union is trying to bridge the gap between its members and the average North American standard pilot’s wage, which is about 45-per-cent higher.

Explainer: How do strikes work in Canada? An intro to unions and labour laws

“We all know aviation is one of the most globalized industries there is. And the capital that supports aviation comes from all over the world, and the industry is highly connected in its economics as well,” he said. “So we know what we’re doing when it comes to this. We do economic and financial analysis of all the comparators and the industry and the macro economy to create our positions.”

WestJet said that in preparation for a work stoppage it would get ready to operate a reduced schedule and provide “flexible” flight change and cancellation arrangements. The airline had scheduled 540 flights for Friday and 457 for Saturday, according to data from aviation analytics firm Cirium.

In a statement, the union said Friday’s job action “could include grounding all aircraft and effectively shutting down operations.”

The union has said it is seeking better pay and demanding that pilots at discount subsidiary Swoop be paid the same as WestJet crews. It said 240 pilots quit WestJet last year for better working conditions elsewhere, including the United States.

“After nine months of negotiating, management still fails to understand today’s labour market conditions, leading to a mass exodus of our pilots in search of better work opportunities, and more will follow if this agreement does not meet our pilots’ needs,” said Bernard Lewall, the head of the WestJet pilots’ union. “Without the economic and job-security improvements our pilots require, WestJet will be parking planes, as they will not have enough pilots to operate them or accomplish its own growth strategy.”

In a statement, WestJet said it regretted the lockout notice but needs to minimize the risk of stranding passengers, crews and planes.

“Our commitment and priority remains at the bargaining table, where we will continue to work around the clock to come to a reasonable agreement as soon as possible, in an effort to prevent labour action,” said Alexis von Hoensbroech, WestJet Group’s chief executive, in a statement.

The pilots’ demands for better pay come as wage growth in Canada outpaced inflation in April, increasing 5.2 per cent from a year ago. The tense talks also follow recent high-profile agreements that delivered solid pay increases for workers, such as the 12.6-per-cent compounded wage increase over four years that settled a strike started last month by 120,000 federal government employees.

Amid a pilot shortage, Delta Airlines’ 15,000 pilots approved a contract in March with a 34-per-cent raise over four years. American Airlines said it would match that offer for its pilots. Talks between Air Canada AC-T and the union that represents its 4,500-plus pilots are expected to begin in the summer. Since 2014, Air Canada pilots have received raises of 2 per cent a year, lagging inflation.

WestJet said the union’s demands for pay closer to that of their U.S. counterparts “is not reasonable and is impeding the WestJet Group’s ability to reach an agreement in advance of the upcoming long weekend.”

Western University professor Geraint Harvey said the labour dispute is rooted in the industry’s focus on low fares and the need to contain costs – issues that predate the pandemic. Prof. Harvey said the impact of a strike undercuts travellers’ faith in an airline and could affect future seat sales. “A strike by pilots is especially bad news for an airline because pilots are essential and cannot be substituted,” he said.

WestJet, owned by Onex Corp. ONEX-T of Toronto, has about 31 per cent of the domestic market.

Duncan Dee, Air Canada’s chief operating officer until 2013, said that ahead of a possible flight disruption the airline and its union would agree to move aircraft and crews to their home bases. This would avoid the expense and inconvenience of storing planes in other countries and ensure that employees are not stranded.

“They do not want to have an aircraft stuck in Cuba,” Mr. Dee said.

WestJet was founded in 1994 as a small Western Canadian low-cost airline known for an informal culture. Since then, it has added subsidiaries, a large fleet of planes and routes throughout Canada and the world. It employs 15,000 people.

Mr. Dee said it is impossible to pin the labour dispute on the new owners and executives who run WestJet because the work force is now unionized. There are big changes on both sides, he said.

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