The Air Line Pilots Association has formalized its drive to unionize pilots at WestJet.

After months of laying the groundwork, the U.S.-based international union said in a letter to pilots that it is collecting membership cards, and warns about a pushback from the Calgary-based airline.

The laws for forming a union in Canada are shifting. Currently, certifying a union in a federally regulated industry, such as an airline, is a two-step process:

  • 40 per cent of employees in the bargaining unit must sign a card.
  • A secret ballot is held.

It's the same process the WestJet Professional Pilots Association (WPPA) went though in the summer of 2015 as it tried to form an in-house union. However, the vote saw 55 per cent of the airline's roughly 1,300 pilots turn it down. The WPPA then threw its support behind the international ALPA.

However, Bill C-4, which would remove the secret ballot requirement from the process and simply require 50 per cent plus 1 of the bargaining unit members to sign a card, is through third reading and being considered in the Senate. 

How much support the ALPA has isn't clear. There are more than 100 WestJet pilots on the union's organizing committee, and in the letter to pilots, the ALPA said they have come together in "great numbers" to support the drive. Over the next week, it has set up collection points for pilots to drop off their cards in WestJet's base cities of Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto.

WestJet flight attendants are also running a union drive, with a deadline of Nov. 30 to collect enough cards to trigger a vote. According to its Facebook page, it will be processing the applications that it has received through December.

The ALPA represents pilots at 31 airlines in Canada and the U.S., including Jazz, Air Transat and Canadian North.