Westjet was a successful non-unionized airline for more then 20 years, so there must have been avenues available to be able to meet with their direct supervisor(s). It wouldn't necessarily be easy or quick, but there has to be or else there would be no opportunity for any employee to talk to management about anything (safety concerns, suggestions for improvement, etc). That being said, It would be extremely unlikely that all 1,000 pilots would have had a discussion about pay; many people simply don't have the stomach for tough in-person negotiations. There is way less pressure to stand behind a professional representative and cast an anonymous ballot.
But they have definitely not ended up in a position with "no other options". Every single one of Westjet's pilots can call their Chief Pilot right now and give their two weeks notice. No one is forcing them to remain an employee of a company that apparently hasn't been interested in discussing improvements to their compensation.
Westjet pilots may have been "non union" but they were represented by an association. The difference is a very fine line and in most cases the two are identical.
But the "mechanics" are the same. Namely you elect a group to represent you. Within that association (or union) via polls or meetings you make your own personal desires known. Then, the representatives of your association meet with the company to present the desires/needs of the majority of the pilots. The one on one meetings you describe are virtually impossible simply due to numbers involved.
Yes, one could walk in the chief pilot's office and quit. But ... in a company the size of Westjet, it is not that simple. That and the chief pilot would not be the contact, it would be someone in HR. But by warning of a strike, in effect that is what the Westjet pilots have done. En masse, they have indicated that they no longer wish to work under current conditions. It is their choice and it is their right.
There is a lot of "anti union" sentiment on this site and I find that kind of curious. First of all, 99% of a union's function is not even job action/negotiation/strike related. But ... what can NOT happen is all pilots to band together and state they will walk out if they don't get a 200% raise. That type of "hostage/bully" scenario is not possible.
As I mentioned above, for an employee group to be in a "legal strike position", a lot has to be accomplished. And ... during those levels passed, all requests must be "reasonable" as dictated by a third party. (usually government appointed). So for the pilots to be in the position they are presently in, not only must they have gone through all possible other options, but an unbiased third party must have decided that up to that point, the pilots have been "reasonable".
I wish them well. They are getting a lot of support from other employee groups from many airlines in Canada. A strike vote is not an easy decision.
Just because I stopped arguing, doesn't mean I think you are right. It just means I gave up!