Unions, industry and labour relations

Westjet Encore flight attendants move to unionize

A Westjet Encore Q400 lands at Vancouver International Airport (photo: Brett Ballah).

Unionized flight attendants could soon be coming to Westjet’s regional arm, Encore, after a majority signed cards to be represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

CUPE already represents 3,000 flight attendants at parent company Westjet, and is expected to start negotiations for a first collective agreement later this year. It has filed an application with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board to represent Encore cabin crew.

It’s the end of an era for the Calgary-based airline, that once boasted its employees were owners, with everyone offered shares in the company. Pilots at Westjet, Encore and low-cost subsidiary Swoop are also unionized, and threatened strike action in their quest for a first contract almost one year ago. The dispute was only settled through arbitration.

“CUPE has industry-leading experience and expertise in improving the working conditions and the lives of our flight attendant members,” said CUPE National President Mark Hancock. “We look forward to adding Encore flight attendants to our airline family.”

CUPE said the unionization drive was propelled by the need for better schedules and opportunities for career advancement.

Westjet is in the midst of a transformation; from folksy low-cost carrier that established new routes and flew only one type of aircraft – the Boeing 737 – to a full-service airline which this year is launching its highest-quality business class product yet, aboard new 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

That transformation also comes replete with a unionized workforce, similar to other Canadian airlines, including main rival Air Canada. In all, CUPE represents 15,000 flight attendants across the country.

CUPE recently settled a new contract with another Alberta-based airline, Flair, after sometimes acrimonious negotiations.

The CUPE request to represent Encore flight attendants now goes to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board for certification. The union is also in a drive to represent staff at Swoop.