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Do I have to join a union or pay union dues?

Every employee in Canada has the right to join or form a union, but what if you don’t want to join? Canada’s union laws are unique and controversial, particularly when it comes to membership and dues.

There’s no law in Canada that requires employees to join a union. The unions themselves can require you to become a member, although this is rare. Each province has its own labour code that spells out how a union can impose mandatory membership.

In Ontario and Manitoba for example, a mandatory membership clause must be part of the collective agreement and voted on by union members.

You may also have to pay union dues, even if you don’t join the union. Most provinces’ labour codes include the Rand Formula (also known as automatic check-off), which says all employees in a unionized workplace must pay dues regardless of membership.

The formula, which dates from a 1946 Supreme Court of Canada ruling, aims to prevent potential freeloaders — that is, people who will enjoy benefits, collective agreements, and union activities without contributing anything to the union.

This applies to all federal employees as well as workers in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador. In most other provinces, automatic check-off can be included in an agreement by union request or if the union and employer agree on it.

If the provincial labour code allows, an employee can be exempted from paying union dues if it conflicts with their religious or personal beliefs. In those cases, the dues would be deducted and given to a charity of the employee’s choosing.

In some provinces, including B.C., Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and P.E.I., an employer can only collect union dues with the employee’s signed authorization.

Mandatory union membership and dues depends on your governing labour code, your collective agreement, and union. Check your province’s labour code and contact a union representative to learn your rights.