Hugh Pouliot CUPE Communications

On July 31, over 3,000 flight attendants at WestJet received some incredible news: after a year-long organizing drive, they are getting their very first union with CUPE.

It’s welcome news for flight attendants, who have a very tough job. Their schedules can be unpredictable. They’re responsible for keeping hundreds of people safe and secure at 30,000 feet. And thanks to constant industry lobbying for weaker safety and labour standards, their jobs are only getting tougher.

But with CUPE, that’s about to change for WestJetters. For the first time, they’ll have independent union representation, and an enforceable collective agreement that strengthens and protects their rights at work.

In unionizing over 3,000 WestJet cabin crew, CUPE’s airline division has grown to include roughly 15,000 members nationwide. It’s the largest successful single-employer union drive for CUPE in years—and it’s a huge opportunity to make life and work a whole lot better for WestJetters and for flight attendants across the industry.

“Working with WestJet inside activists was an incredible experience. The passion and energy they brought to organizing their workplace was inspiring,” said David Fleming, a CUPE organizer.

Of course, like any other drive, this one had its challenges.

First off, WestJetters don’t have a single workplace—they have over 100 of them, and they’re constantly on the move. Finding opportunities where organizers and activists could talk about the benefits of joining a union was often difficult.

The drive owes its success to a lot of one-on-one chats and meetups at the airport in between flights and at all hours of the day and night between organizers and flight attendants curious about what CUPE had to offer. And significant effort was made to reach potential new members through their phones via social media and weekly e-mail updates.

“The campaign was characterized by the creativity of these new members,” Fleming continues. “It was their creative approach to reaching people and their tireless energy that allowed us to communicate so effectively with WestJetters.”

CUPE organizers and inside activists also faced roadblocks and obstacles put up by the employer and their allies who were desperate to avoid a strong unionized workforce.

But they did what CUPE organizers and activists do best: they got creative, they worked long and hard, and they never let up. It’s the same spirit CUPE will channel in the coming months as we work with WestJetters to negotiate their very first collective agreement.

CUPE will continue its organizing drives at WestJet’s smaller carriers, Encore and Swoop. But for now, this is a major victory for WestJetters, for CUPE, and for all the activists who gave their time and energy to this effort.