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WestJet pilots vote to unionize as airline looks to expand, form discount service

Pilots of WestJet Airlines Ltd. have voted to join a union, potentially giving Canada's second-largest airline a challenge amid two key initiatives – international expansion and the creation of its own ultra-low-cost carrier.

The WestJet pilots, who number 1,400, have voted to join the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA). About 97 per cent of pilots voted, with 62 per cent casting ballots in favour of unionization.

"WestJet pilots told us it's time for a certified union," Tim Canoll, president of the ALPA, said in a statement. An earlier attempt by WestJet pilots to organize their own union failed.

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WestJet president Gregg Saretsky said the airline is disappointed "but we are dedicated to moving forward as a team."

Canada's second-largest airline is prepared to engage in "constructive dialogue" with its pilots, Mr. Saretsky said in a statement.

The formation of a union at the airline comes a week after WestJet said it would buy 10 Boeing 787 airplanes that will be used on long-haul flights, a move that challenges Air Canada's domination of markets outside North America.

The announcement of the international expansion was made just weeks after WestJet said it will establish an airline within an airline by creating an ultra-low-cost carrier that would offer lower fares but charge fees for virtually all services.

The new airline, which will have a different brand name but will use WestJet Boeing 737 planes that will have more seats than current WestJet 737s, is scheduled to start service later this year.

"Pilots spend a lifetime at an airline," Rob McFadyen, a member of the union's organizing committee, said in a statement. "We as WestJet pilots need the best possible support for ourselves and our families – health, retirement, fatigue, safety, family support, legal protection and more – and today, we pledged that ALPA will help our pilot group provide that support moving forward."

At Air Canada, pilots have their own union, while flight attendants are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

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Maintenance workers at Air Canada are members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Counter agents and some other airport personnel are members of Unifor.

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