Majority of WestJet flight attendants sign union cards, says CUPE

After several years of unionization drives at WestJet, most flight attendants at the airline have now signed union cards, according to CUPE.

Pilots were the first group to unionize at the Calgary-based carrier

WestJet pilots were the first to unionize and now flight attendants are taking similar action. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

After several years of unionization drives at WestJet, a majority of flight attendants at the airline have now signed union cards, according to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

CUPE announced Monday it has now filed an application with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to represent those flight attendants.

The union says more than half of flight attendants at WestJet's mainline carrier and at its low-cost carrier Swoop, have signed union cards

"It's a big day, it's an exciting day. It's a major milestone," CUPE spokesperson Hugh Pouliot said in an interview. "It's not the end of the road for us or for the flight attendants at WestJet, but this is a huge, huge step."

If the union is certified, it would mark yet another employee group to unionize at WestJet after pilots for the main carrier and at its regional carrier Encore last year.

"Interest in unionization definitely resurfaced after pilots certified," said Pouliot. "These things tend to snowball. It took a little while to build the snowball, but in the last few months, certainly things picked up to the point where we started thinking this looks really good." 
Nearly 150 pilots from WestJet and other airlines demonstrated outside the company's annual meeting with shareholders at its Calgary headquarters on May 8. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Flight attendants have complained about working conditions and claimed they're paid less than minimum wage.

WestJet was not immediately available to comment.

Fred Lazar, who follows airlines at York University's Schulich School of Business, said with CUPE's news, the onus now shifts the management to make its case to flight attendants.

"It's only going to be bad news if you start to get an us-versus-them mindset," Lazar said.

But if the situation becomes adversarial, it could eventually damage an airline's reputation or result in strike action, he said.

"It's up to management to basically say, 'Look, we've got the unions, we're stuck with them. Let's try to make the best of the situation, try to work with the leadership, and try to work with employees, and make sure that the company maintains its reputation and continues to grow and prosper.'"

Full-time flight attendants have a starting wage of $25.29 per hour of flying time. The maximum wage is $47.50 per hour. Based on the expectation of around 80 flying hours a month, an annual base salary begins at about $24,500 and tops out at about $46,500.

WestJet and the Air Line Pilots Association agreed in May to a settlement process on a contract through mediation — and, if required, final and binding arbitration. 

Full-time flight attendants are expected to fly 80 hours a month. Their pay is based on years of experience. Employees are compensated for how many hours they spend in the air, not the length of their shifts. (CBC News)