A group of WestJet employees have unionized as the airline looks to emerge from its darkest year on record.

Unifor announced Friday that 531 airport agents – on-the-ground workers who typically handle customer-facing roles in airport terminals – have joined the union.

Of those agents, 320 work in Calgary and 211 work in Vancouver. Those workers are the first ground crew employees to unionize at the airline and join the roughly 3,000 WestJet cabin crew staff and 1,300 pilots who have already unionized.

Unifor filed an application with the Canada Industrial Relations Board on April 12 to certify itself as the union for those workers. The CIRB certified Unifor's application on Friday in a filing on its website.

Unifor National President Jerry Dias hailed the move in a statement as vital for workers’ rights in the wake of WestJet’s sale to Onex and the massive job losses that have occurred due to the destruction in travel demand due to the pandemic.

“With the sale of their airline almost two years ago and the impact of the pandemic on all airlines over the past year, it is vital that workers have a voice in the future of this company,” Dias said.

Travel demand was decimated in 2020, with the International Air Transport Association reporting revenue passenger kilometers – a key measure of activity – plunged 65.9 per cent year-over-year.

That demand destruction prompted waves of layoffs at the Canadian airlines, including WestJet. The carrier most recently announced in January that 1,000 of its employees would be impacted by furloughs, temporary layoffs, unpaid leaves and reduced hours.