Response to WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky’s memo to WestJet employees

hpouliot Uncategorized

Dear WestJetters,

My name is Troy Winters. I work for CUPE in the Health and Safety Branch. I don’t usually wade into these discussions, but yesterday you were provided a letter by your President and CEO, Mr. Gregg Saretsky, who makes some incorrect claims, but also asked some good questions, and I feel moved to respond, as I think you deserve answers to both.

Before joining the staff, I was a CUPE member working at Dalhousie University. I was a member for almost twelve years, and served on the executive of my local as a vice president for six. It is in this light that I’m responding to the points of Mr. Saretsky’s letter.

Mr. Saretsky’s first point, claiming that our drive is “opportunistic”, stemming from the successful ALPA drive, is simply not accurate. There have been flight attendants at WestJet that have been interested in joining CUPE for years, but it’s important to emphasize that CUPE only participates in organizing when the employees of a company reach out to us with interest. If anything, the pilots’ successful drive has inspired and reinvigorated many flight attendants who realize they too can be part of a union and improve their working conditions.

The bigger question posed by your CEO has to do with what union members receive in return for their dues, claiming unions are just in the business of profit. Let’s be clear: no one at CUPE will become wealthier because of your dues money. But it is worth asking: what do you get? That’s an easy question to answer.

Flight attendants unionized with CUPE have made enormous strides on wages, health and safety, and working conditions since our union began working in the airline sector thirty years ago. That’s because the money our flight attendant members pay in dues covers the cost of a dedicated researcher, a health and safety specialist and a coordinator who work with a team of expert staff representatives to guide our members through the labour relations process to get the best deal possible. Their dues also support a robust legal team, pay equity experts, communications specialists, and educational programs that put our members in a position to succeed every time they go to the bargaining table.

Mr. Saretsky claims that having a union somehow holds companies and employees from acting on good ideas, or perhaps even complaints. Again, let’s be clear: CUPE doesn’t place a barrier between workers and management for positive and constructive improvements. In fact, it’s the opposite. Flight attendants are in the best position to bring forth solutions to problems and improve the workplace – and CUPE has been and will continue to be an essential voice to help employees bring issues, ideas, and concerns forward, especially during times where they feel they need extra support to do so.

Unions, and especially CUPE, are not interested in destroying the WestJet culture; we want to enhance it. Mr. Saretsky claims that we don’t understand your business – I could not disagree more.  Other airlines in Canada have embraced their unions, and have solid working relationships with open and transparent conversations.

I work in health and safety. It is my job, but also a passion and I have worked with all of our airline divisions. CUPE has gained the trust and respect of other airlines to the level where we have worked together and I actually accompany workers on regular flights to examine how work processes can be improved and the processes made safer and more efficient. This has brought a competitive advantage to those airlines that have chosen to embrace the opportunity.

I have sat in countless meetings, facilitating discussions, and sometimes just watching in quiet awe, as the union and the employer work out issues like a return to work process for a woman with an addiction problem; or getting help for mental health issues; or finding mutual solutions for a number of health and safety issues.

Would these people in need have felt supported enough to navigate these complexities of life and work without the support of a union?

WestJet has transformed, in just a few decades, from a scrappy, determined upstart to the second largest airline in the country. You did this with a vision and set of values, and while this is the foundation, it’s not always easy to maintain – and many WestJet employees have come to us saying things aren’t the way they used to be. Unions can and do help smooth out this process.  When everyone is working from the same rulebook, we can ensure that, as WestJet continues to grow, that employees’ compensation and fair treatment are keeping pace.

In his letter, Mr. Saretsky claimed: “We don’t understand your business.”

To the contrary, I’d say we don’t only understand your business; we understand the people who make up your business too.

Troy Winters, CRSP
Senior Health & Safety Officer
Canadian Union of Public Employees