Last year, more than 12,000 workers in British Columbia joined a union by organizing their workplaces. The information provided in this section of our site is aimed at answering many of the questions that come up when workers want to form a union at their workplace. We've also included some more general information about CMAW Canada's role in helping workers form unions.

What is a union?
You are the union - you and a majority of your co-workers in the workplace. The basic idea of a union is that by joining together with co-workers you will have a greater ability to be more effective in collectively improving conditions at the workplace. These workplace improvements are achieved through the process of collective bargaining, which concludes with a legally-binding collective agreement, signed between the union and the employer.

What are the benefits of a union?
The union's goals in a workplace are its members' goals:

  • Job Security
  • Health and Safety in the Workplace
  • Pay Equity
  • Hours of work
  • Employment Equity
  • Fair Wages and Benefits
  • Family Responsibility Leave
  • Dignity and Respect (union security)
  • Democratization of the work place

Is it legal to organize a union?
Yes. Working men and women have the legal right to union representation. This right also includes those employed in telework and homeworkers. The Labour Relations Codes and the Canada Labour Code ensures and protects that right.

These laws state:

Alberta Labour Code
Division 2
Employee and Employer Rights

Rights of employees and employers
21(1) An employee has the right
(a) to be a member of a trade union and to participate in it's lawful activities, and 
(b) to bargain collectively with the employee's employer through a bargaining agent.

employer has the right
(a) to be a member of a employers' organization and to participate in its lawful activities,
(b) to bargain collectively with the employer's employees, and 
(c) to conduct collective bargaining through an employers' organization. 1988 cL-1.2 s


Part 2 - BC Labour Relations Code (Provincial)

Rights of employers and employees
4. (1) Every employee is free to be a member of a trade union and to participate in its lawful activities.
6. (3) An employer or a person acting on behalf of an employer shall not
(a) discharge, suspend, transfer, lay off or otherwise discipline an employee, refuse to employ or continue to employ a person or discriminate against a person in regard to employment or a condition of employment because the person
(i) is or proposes to become or seeks to induce another person to become a member or officer of a trade union or
(ii) participates in the promotion, formation or administration of a trade union.

Part I Canada Labour Code - (Federal)

Basic Freedoms
(i) Every employee is free to join the trade union of his/her choice and to participate in its lawful activities.
Prohibitions Relating to Employers
(i) No employer or person acting on behalf of an employer shall:
(a) refuse to employ or to continue to employ or suspend, transfer, lay off or otherwise discriminate against any person with respect to employment, pay or any other term or condition of employment or intimidate, threaten or otherwise discipline any person because the person...
(i) is or proposes to become, or seek to induce any other person to become, a member, officer or representative of a trade union or participate in the promotion, formation or administration of a trade union.

Is it hard to organize a union?
No. There are some detailed and formal legal steps to follow but the union organizer will assist you with those requirements.

The basic steps in organizing a union aren't difficult:

(i) You and a majority of your co-workers (excluding management) sign a membership card indicating your desire to become unionized.
(ii) The union will file an Application for Certification as the bargaining agent for your workplace before the appropriate Labour Relations Board, depending on what jurisdiction you are employed in.

In BC, you must sign up at least 45% of the employees in order to apply for certification. In Alberta 40%. The percentages change if there is already collective bargaining representative within the employer already.

In a federally regulated workplace, you must have at least 35% employee support to apply

(iii) The Labour Relations Board will review all membership cards received and determine whether to conduct a supervised vote at the workplace. If the majority votes in favour, the union is certified.

The Federal Labour Code also allows a union to be certified based solely on the membership cards (with no vote) if there is 51% employee support for the union.

How do you know just what union to choose?
It is in the interest of each group of unorganized workers to join a union with experience and proven effectiveness in representing compatible workers in the same industry, service (public or private) or trade. CMAW Canada has a long and proud history representing the wishes, needs and aspirations of workers. As a modern trade union we represent much more than carpenters. We represent school board employees who cover a wide range of work skills, in addition to many specialist workers in construction and the building trades.

Will my exploratory call be confidential?
Yes. CMAW Canada will handle all contacts in the strictest confidence and the appropriate union will also assure you of the same confidentiality.