WestJet Encore pilots unionize and flight attendants could be next

Despite all of its efforts, WestJet is losing the battle to deter its employees from forming unions.

It's the second employee group to vote in favour of forming a union.

A majority of WestJet Encore pilots are in favour of unionizing, joining their counterparts at the main WestJet operation. (Francois Biber/CBC)

Despite all of its efforts, WestJet is losing the battle to deter its employees from forming unions.

Pilots flying for WestJet Encore announced Wednesday they have the numbers to unionize, which follows certification of pilots flying for the Calgary-based company's flagship carrier. 

An "overwhelming majority" of Encore pilots filed membership cards, according to the Air Line Pilots Association, Int'l (ALPA). The union will officially form once it receives approval from the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

About 500 pilots work at Encore, which is WestJet's regional airline.

"We're excited for the Encore pilots, and proud of their hard work in organizing this group, gathering membership cards in a short time," said Capt. Dan Adamus, ALPA Canada president, in a statement. "When they join ALPA, they will add their voices to the thousands of union-represented airline pilot voices in Canada." 

ALPA declined an interview request. However, it did say that once certification is approved, the group will begin negotiating its first collective agreement. WestJet declined to comment because it has not been served with the union application.

CUPEUnifor, the United Steelworkers, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers also began union drives this summer. CUPE, in particular, is pushing to represent all flight attendants.

Westjet Airlines president and CEO Gregg Saretsky sits in the cockpit of a Bombardier Q400 airliner. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

Until the pilot groups were successful, several union drives fell short since 2014 as WestJet management tried to sway employees to stick with the status quo. The company argued against unionization, saying it would harm the unique culture of the airline and its financial position. Management frequently delivered its message to workers and co-founder Clive Beddoe even wrote to employees, saying WestJet's success hinged on its "unity of purpose" and co-operation instead on confrontation.

WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky took an apparent jab at union drives last year during an employee pep rally.

"There are WestJetters who don't contribute positively to the culture," he said. "And if we can't bring them back into the fold, we have to make it uncomfortable for them to stay here. They need to find their happiness elsewhere."

ALPA is the world's largest pilot union and already represents pilots at several Canadian airlines including Air Transat, Bearskin, Calm Air, Canadian North, First Air, and Jazz Aviation. 

A letter to pilots from the Encore ALPA Organizing Committee was obtained by CBC News.

About the Author

Kyle Bakx

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Kyle Bakx is a Calgary-based journalist with CBC's network business unit. He's covered stories across the country and internationally.

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