Image from CUPE organizing video for Westjet flight attendants
WESTJET FLIGHT ATTENDANTS CAN SMELL THE COFFEE. Even better than Tim Hortons workers. They know you can’t count on the boss to always treat you right.
“Everyone is talking about minimum wage increases and are up in arms about Tim Hortons workers who deserve better,” one flight attendant told CBC. “What about the person who is responsible for your safety on an aircraft?”
The fact is WestJet flight attendants have been regularly cheated out of a fair day’s pay for years and years. On many days they don’t even get the minimum wage for the hours they work. All of which is lending strength to a Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) organizing drive.
Westjet flying solo
WestJet, unlike other airlines, only pays its cabin crew for time spent in the air.
That means, a Westjet flight attendant working for the starting salary of $26 an hour would be paid just $26 for a one-hour flight from Calgary to Vancouver.
Time spent checking in, preparing the cabin for passenger arrival, helping passengers deplane, time spent checking out—about three hours worth of work—is not paid time. So, getting just $26 for what is really four hours work reduces the hourly rate to $6.50 per hour—far below any minimum wage in any province in Canada.
Even if you are lucky enough to receive the $47.50 top pay for a Westjet flight attendant, in this scenario, you would still end up earning less than $12 an hour, barely above the minimum wage in BC and well below Alberta’s.
WestJet is an outlier with its refusal to pay its workers anything for the time they spend preparing for and finishing up after the flight. Most airlines offer at least some compensation for additional tasks on the ground.
“A lot of this does push us, and is currently pushing us towards unionization,” an anonymous Westjet flight attendant told Global News.
David Fleming, who has been working for CUPE to build support for unionization, said that WestJet may be in violation of federal law with its pay structure. “That’s a possibility and something we’re exploring,” he said.
The Labour Department noted that employers are obliged to pay their staff for all activities performed at work.
In a separate unionization drive, Unifor is working with WestJet customer service agents to establish a union for them. WestJet employees reportedly reached out to Unifor after becoming frustrated with the failure of the non-union company association to bring about improvements in workplace conditions.
Pilots lead the way
Cabin crew and customer service workers also have the example of pilots at WestJet and WestJet Encore to show them the benefits of having a union.
After years as a non-union employer, WestJet recognized the pilots’ union following a determined organizing drive. The Airline Pilots Association has been pushing for its first collective agreement with WestJet for its members and is currently engaged in bargaining.
On March 2, the ALPA secured a big victory for WestJet pilots when it won a Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) decision that prohibits WestJet from hiring non-union pilots for its new cut-price carrier.
The company had been trying to bypass the union when hiring pilots for Swoop, but the ruling means the ALPA has to be involved. This will give the pilots a better opportunity to resist management’s attempts to enforce concessions on new hires at Swoop, and prevent the undermining of working conditions across WestJet.
If you’re a WestJet flight attendant or customer service agent interested in finding out more about unionizing, visit CUPE’s WestJet page or Unifor’s WestJet site.