IAMAW District Lodge 14
Get a Union!
|Once you and your
fellow employees have decided that a union can help you stand up for
your rights as workers and improve your workplace you've taken the
first step in the process of forming a union.
Your right to organize or join a union is protected by legislation. In Alberta, the Labour Relations Code defines how to form a union and lays out the rules for union certification, bargaining, etc. The act clearly states "an employee has the right to be a member of a trade union and to participate in its lawful activities and to bargain collectively with the employee's employer through a bargaining unit."
Unfortunately, as with most labour law in Alberta, there is often a big difference between what employers are allowed to do and what they actually do. With this in mind it is important to know your rights when it comes to organizing a union.
As a general rule, employers don't like unions and will try to stop them from being organized - so workers should always use caution when researching, communicating with or organizing a union at their workplace. Contacting the Alberta Federation of Labour or an affiliated union can help you through the process.
How To Form A Union
|Unions represent a
specific group of employees in negotiations with the employer and
otherwise act on the employees' behalf. A trade union may be a
local of a provincial, national or international union or it may be an
independent organization that represents the employees of only one plant
Any group of workers can form their own union by drafting a constitution and bylaws, signing up members, electing officers and filing with the Labour Relations Board to become a union.
These days, however, most workers who wish to become unionized do so through an established union because it makes the process easier and gives workers the support of an organization that knows the process and has organizers to help with a union drive.
The actual process of forming a union in your workplace is not complicated. To be certified a union must demonstrate that it has the support of the majority of employees in a workplace.
This is done by having employees sign a union membership card (or sometimes a petition) indicating the desire to be represented by a particular union. In Alberta, workers signing cards must also pay $2.00 as an application fee. Cards are valid for 90 days from the date they are signed.
Once at least 40 percent of employees have signed cards indicating their support for a union an application for certification is made to the Labour Relations Board. The application is made by completing and filing a form supplied by the Board and providing proof of support. In practice very few unions would file for application with only 40 percent support. The goal is to talk to all employees and have as many employees as possible support the union.
When the Board receives the application from the union they check to make sure:
Once the Board has determined that the union has fulfilled the above requirements, the Board will, as soon as possible, conduct a representation vote to determine if a majority of employees in the bargaining unit favours certification.
A notice of vote will be posted setting out the type of employee eligible to vote. The vote is by secret ballot and the majority of those employees who actually vote determine the outcome. If 50% plus 1 of the employees who vote support the union it is certified as the exclusive bargaining agent for the employees.
The Board then issues a certificate which confirms that the union is the exclusive agent for every employee in the bargaining unit regardless of whether or not they are a member of the union. Usually the union and the employer then commence bargaining for a collective agreement. A collective agreement is a written contract that outlines the wages, benefits and working conditions of employees.
The Code requires the parties to meet with each other and to bargain in good faith. They must make every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement. If one party fells the other is failing to meet or failing to bargain in good faith that party may file a complaint with the Board. If the complaint cannot be settled the Board may hold a hearing, make a finding and if necessary issue directives or impose conditions to ensure that good faith bargaining resumes.
What Employers and Unions Can Do
|It is important to
know that the process is totally confidential. Unions won't tell
an employer who has signed cards, the Board is not allowed to release
information on who has signed cards and the vote is conducted in secret
by the Board.
The choice to form a union is up to the workers alone. The Labour Relations Code also prohibits employers from doing certain things which will interfere with the rights of employees to freely choose whether to form a union. These actions are called unfair labour practices.
Some examples of other things employers cannot do are:
Likewise, there are rules governing what a union can and cannot do.
A union cannot:
In addition, once a union applies for certification the conditions of employment are frozen. This is done by the Board because employers will often try to make conditions better at a workplace, by raising wages for example, in an attempt to convince employees to vote against forming a union.
An employer is prohibited from altering the rates of pay or any term or condition of employment or any right or privilege of any employee from the date of the application until 30 days after certification is granted. If the union serves notice to bargain within those 30 days, the employer may not alter working conditions for a further 60 days.
This rule does not apply to changes in the conditions of employment that are customary, such as a raise that is given to employees every year that happens to fall within this period.
|If you think that
a union might be right for you and your fellow workers, we can help!
The Alberta Federation of Labour has more than 1,100 affiliated locals in more than 30 unions across the province. These unions are provincial, national and international in scope and represent members in the private and public sector and trades.
It is in the interest of each group of unorganized workers to join a union with experience and proven effectiveness in representing workers in the same industry, service or trade. We can help you decide which union would be best to represent workers in your type of work, and we can help put you in contact with a union that can help you. All inquiries will be kept completely confidential.
For more information about forming a union or with help in finding the right union to help you, contact the Alberta Federation of Labour.
|excerpt from the AFL website - April 25, 2005 (Alberta Federation of Labour © 2003)|
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