Sheet Metal Workers' International Association

Local 276

Union Q&A

What does “certify” a union mean?

When the Board certifies a union, it recognizes that union as the representative or bargaining agent of a group of employees. Once the union is certified, the employer is required to bargain terms of employment with the union, rather than with individual employees.

The group of employees which the union is certified to represent is called the bargaining unit. For example, a union can be certified to represent “all employees of ABC Company” or “all employees of ABC Company, except sales staff”. Once certified, the union is required to represent all of the employees in the bargaining unit, whether or not they are members of the union.

Can I lose my job for supporting or not supporting the union?

No. An employer cannot dismiss or discipline an employee for supporting a union’s efforts to organize the workplace, and a union cannot have an employee dismissed for refusing to support the union’s organizing efforts.

What starts the union certification process?

The process can begin in various ways. Often, it begins with employees at a non-unionized workplace contacting a union and asking it to help the employees “organize” (unionize) their workplace. Sometimes it is the union which initiates contact.

The union may hold information meetings, distribute leaflets or otherwise communicate with the employees to try to persuade the majority of employees to sign union membership cards. The union and its representatives are not allowed to organize at an employer’s place of business during working hours without the consent of the employer. This prohibition does not apply when the employees are on lunch or other work breaks.

How many signed cards does the union need to be certified? Will a secret-ballot vote be held?

The Labour Relations Code provides that if the union applies for certification with signed membership cards from 45% or more of the employees in the proposed bargaining unit, a secret ballot vote will be held within 10 days. The Union will be certified if the majority of the votes cast are in favour of union certification.

If a union applies for certification with membership cards from less than 45% of the employees, the application will be dismissed.

What does it mean to sign a union membership card?

Signing a membership card means that you join the union and understand that the union is entitled to rely on your signed membership card as evidence of your desire to have the union certified to represent you and your co-workers. To be counted as support for a union’s application for certification, a membership card must be signed and dated before midnight of the day that the union files its application with the Board

Can my working conditions change during the union’s organizing drive?

No. While an application for certification is pending, the Code imposes a “freeze” during which employers must continue “business as usual” and cannot change working conditions without the Board’s written permission. If the drive results in the union being certified, the Code imposes a further 4-month “freeze” during which working conditions cannot be altered unless a collective agreement is negotiated.

What does the union do with the signed membership cards?

When it has collected enough signed membership cards, the union submits copies of the cards to the Board together with an Application for Certification form.

Will my employer find out whether I signed a membership card?

Employers are not entitled to know who did or did not sign a card. The Board keeps the names of the employees who sign membership cards and the cards themselves strictly confidential.