The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says a majority of flight attendants at Westjet and its ultra-low-cost sister airline, Swoop have signed union cards allowing CUPE to file a union application at the Canada Industrial Relations Board. If accepted, CUPE will officially represent cabin crew at the two airlines.
The drive to unionize has been going on for some time but many flight attendants were spurred on by pilots at the airline who won representation earlier this year. Westjet has been forced to make concessions for its flight crew after pilots threatened strike action in May.
Westjet, which has been flying since 1996, said it would “prefer to work directly with our employee groups” – known as Westjetters within the company – but it would “respect the rights of our employees to choose their representation”.
CUPE, however, claims that Westjet management had been using anti-union tactics in the last few months as more and more cabin crew started to file their union cards. The union claimed Westjet was intimidating employees involved in union activities and was even forcing crew to download anti-union literature onto their tablet devices – under threat of disciplinary action.
The hope is that with union representation, a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached – offering cabin crew a better base salary, increased per diems and wardrobe allowances as well as better treatment.
Employees have also raised significant concerns about extra duties they’re expected to do without pay – including taking on the roles of cleaners. A task that can add an additional hour to most flight attendants working day without pay. The union says some Westjet cabin crew have even received cuts and needle stick injuries from cleaning aircraft without the appropriate tools.
A final decision and official vote should be expected in the next few months. If approved though, it remains to be seen whether a collective bargaining agreement will be easily reached.