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WestJet asked non-union staff to provide scab labour in case of Calgary, Vancouver strike

Calgary and Vancouver check-in clerks have seen their wages frozen since 2017, union says

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WestJet is asking non-unionized staff to sign up for scab labour, in case newly-unionized check-in clerks strike for higher wages — a leaked email obtained by PressProgress reveals.

WestJet sent out an email, Thursday afternoon, asking non-union workers to sign up to be reassigned to Calgary and Vancouver to replace unionized check-in clerks if they go on strike .

‘An important part of our planning is identifying non-union general band WestJetters who can be reassigned to work in the operation if required.’

If too few workers sign up, WestJet said it would implement a “planned reassignment” of positions.

WestJet confirmed it was “identifying employees who may be reassigned to work at YYC or YVR, when and if required” as part of “regular contingency planning” in a statement to PressProgress.

WestJet also noted in the email that “planning for the scenario of a work stoppage, does NOT mean one will occur.” The company said, further,  it remains “optimistic there is a path to an agreement that will be satisfactory to both WestJet and the union.”

WestJet

Check-in clerks in Vancouver and Calgary unionized with Unifor in 2021. Improving wages is a key bargaining issue for their first contract, according to Leslie Dias, Unifor’s Director of Airlines.

Unifor applied for conciliation in April, signaling an impasse in negotiations. However, the clerks have yet to take a strike vote and Dias says there is still “plenty of time to get an agreement.”

“These are workers that have not had a pay increase since April of 2017. So we’re over five years with no pay increase,” Dias said, noting the company only boosted entry level employee wages when minimum wage legislation forced them to.

“The employer seems to have some difficulty recognizing that people have basic needs,” Dias said. “People need to live, they need to be able to pay their rent, they need to be able to put food on the table, they need to be able to put gas in their car to get to work.”

“Many of our people have to have more than one job to survive. They’re not getting paid big, big dollars at all. And it’s majority, by far, part time work.”

Check-in clerks in Calgary and Vancouver are some of the few remaining clerks who are direct employees of WestJet. Early in the pandemic, WestJet outsourced 3,000 jobs which forced most check-in clerks across the country to reapply for their jobs through a separate company.

Dias questioned WestJet’s motive for sending the email to non-union workers asking them to provide scab labour. “I question whether that’s proactive or them trying to play mind games and trying to send subtle messages.”

“Their ability to keep an operation running without the airport staff and bringing in other employees to help out is somewhat laughable,” Dias said. “As it is today, with over 650 agents in Calgary and Vancouver, they’re grossly understaffed and can barely lift through an operation today with well trained workers.”

One WestJet worker who received the email expressed disappointment that the company was trying to pit workers against each other.

“I think it is unacceptable that WestJet, a multi billion dollar company, would look to undermine its workers who are just looking for a fair deal,” the worker told PressProgress.

The worker also encouraged non-union colleagues to express solidarity and refuse to sign up to do Unifor members’ jobs.

“Non-union workers should understand the importance of the equitable treatment of all workers and recognize that an injury to one set of workers can set the tone for other groups within the company.”

“Non-union workers should not scab. Period.”

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WestJet did not send the email to flight attendants who are unionized with CUPE, according to CUPE communications officer Lou Arab.

“We’re asking our members to not do any Unifor work. Any help with the employer on that is just going to prolong any job action and only motivate the company to take a harder line with Unifor and ultimately, with the other unionized groups at the company,” Arab told PressProgress.

“We’re interested in doing anything we can to help Unifor achieve a fair collective agreement.”

“They’re not in any position to handle any job action and the memo to employees kind of confirms it,” Arab added. “If WestJet really wants to have a profitable and productive summer, they probably should settle that contract with Unifor as quickly as they can.”

 

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Emily Leedham
Prairies Reporter
Emily Leedham is PressProgress’ Prairies Reporter. Her reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, big money and corporate influence, and systemic racism.

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