From beginning WestJet, the small start up from the west, did things differently. Employees would own about 20% of the business, providing enough incentive for them to feel vested in the work they do. The plan worked well, WestJetters felt valued and often took extra steps along the way to ensure the traveling public felt part of something different.
As WestJet was on its way to becoming a dominant player in larger worldwide airline markets, in addition to expanding routes domestically, that personal touch employees grew to expect slowly seemed to become secondary. As the culture of management changed at WestJet, more employee groups knew they needed a real alternative to the company-sponsored internal associations.
In 2014, flight attendants would lead the charge to unionize with the WestJet Professional Flight Attendants Association. After a number of unsuccessful attempts of unionization, flight attendants turned to the Canadian Union of Public Employees Union (CUPE) for the support to gain unionization. It took until 2018 for them to be successful at WestJet Mainline and 2019 for WestJet Encore and Swoop.
This realization for the need to gain real union protections was not limited to just one work group. We saw a shift in the WestJet culture as pilots narrowly rejected unionization in 2015. Two years later in 2017, we would see the successful application to the Canada Labour Board paving the way for pilot certification and the eventual collective bargaining with this work group.
The WestJet employee associations for each of the airline’s work groups were originally set up under the umbrella of its “Proactive Communication Team” (PACT) as a means for workgroups and management to communicate. This mechanism acted as a key part to limit employee power and keep unions out. We see this currently with the AEA and the CCEA. Internal employee associations are not new. In fact, they have been around for many years. In the United States, they were known as “company unions” and were deemed illegal by 1935.
Company unions are an elaborate system meant to deter unionization, while workers are told it promotes a cooperative relationship. The biggest problem that workers face in this system is the lack of any ability to fully object to an employer’s actions. Even if they disagree with the actions of the employer, the employer could just ignore them.
This becomes more evident with the current outsourcing and job reductions we see at WestJet. The AEA and the CCEA have no real power to stop the employer from doing what they want to do. Even as the employer eliminates thousands of jobs, they tell those who object to the actions to stay in line and show respect to a broken system that is walking them to the unemployment line.
Unionized workgroups at WestJet are not being outsourced or eliminated - they have recall rights to return to their jobs as the company rebounds. That is not a coincidence. In fact, it’s because they understood a long time ago the internal associations had no real power.
By being part of a union, flight attendants and pilots have found a way to restore the founding principles of WestJet, in which the needs of the staff and the company were intertwined. They have given these workgroups back the voice they had when WestJet was still a scrappy western airline that was forever altering air travel in this country.
Airport workers and call centre employees deserve to have just such a voice, as well. The fact is, joining a union is not a betrayal of your employer or the WestJet culture. The real betrayal is the outsourcing and job eliminations without recall to the workers who built the company.
It is important to talk with your coworkers who are members of ALPA or CUPE and ask them about their experience in joining their unions.
If you have any questions, would like to sign a Unifor Card, or would like to know how you can help bring a true voice to the workplace, please reach out to one of your Unifor Organizers.
Billy O'Neill, Unifor
[email protected] | 416-605-1443
Ada Zampini, Unifor
[email protected] | 514-701-6227
Bruce Fafard, Unifor
[email protected] | 587-341-0945
Simon Lau, Unifor
[email protected] | 778-928-9630
Patrick Murray, Unifor
[email protected] | 506-850-7996
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