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WestJet cancels 407 flights as mechanics strike in surprise move on busy long weekend

A surprise strike by unionized airline mechanics at WestJet has left thousands of passengers wondering whether they would reach their destinations on Saturday after the airline cancelled 407 flights, affecting an estimated 49,000 passengers.

The airline said it will continue to ground aircraft through to Sunday evening, aiming to reduce its operating fleet to approximately 30 aircraft by that time, according to a release on Saturday evening.

The strike decision comes a day after Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan directed the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to impose binding arbitration to solve outstanding collective agreement issues between the Calgary-based airline and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).

In a statement Thursday, AMFA said there is no modern precedent for the minister's action. The order followed two weeks of turbulent discussions between the union and airline on a new deal.

AMFA said on Friday that roughly 680 workers went ahead with strike action against the company, but the union remains engaged in dialogue with the CIRB to resolve the impasse.

«The [aircraft maintenance engineers] were hopeful this action would be unnecessary but the airline's unwillingness to negotiate with the union made the strike,» the statement reads.

Members to avoid unlawful job action, says union

The union said it will comply with the arbitration process and directed its members to avoid any unlawful job action.

The union's legal counsel said the strike is within the union's rights even with the minister's order. Sam Seham said there was no explicit mention that job action by AMFA would be against the law.

«What was silent, or what was omitted, from the minister's referral is any indication that AMFA's right to

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