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What are unions?

A union is an organized group of workers who get together to have an impact on the workplace when it comes to worker’s rights and workplace conditions. That means that workers will bargain their work terms and conditions together instead of individually.

Approximately 30 per cent of Canadian workers belong to unions. Unions are regulated by federal or provincial/territorial statute. There are quite a few unions in existence in Canada, both federally and provincially/territorially regulated.

Who can belong to a union?

A wide variety of professions have unions. To name just a few such professions include: teachers, engineers, sales associates, people employed in manufacturing, such as autoworkers, people who work in hospitals and the hospitality industry, and many more.

Usually people in highly professional employment, such as doctors, lawyers and accountants are not part of unions. However, that is not to say they can’t have unions or join unions.

How do employees form unions?

Employees can decide amongst themselves to form a union or if there is already a union for a particular workplace or region, an employee can join that union.

In order to create a union, employees will have to apply to the labour relations board of their province. Usually that involves filling out an application and submitting it. There is usually a requirement by the board that it has sufficient numbers to form a bargaining unit.

If the board approves the application then the union is usually “certified” meaning the board has granted union status on the applicants and gives the union the right to negotiate a collective agreement with the employer, which will streamline working conditions and wages for all unionized employees.

An employer is not allowed to interfere if his or her employees decide they want to form a union.

Examples of federal unions

An example of a federal union is the Public Service Alliance of Canada. It is one of the largest unions in Canada and represents approximately 170,000 people across Canada.

Their members are comprised of people who work for federal government departments and agencies, crown corporations, universities, casinos, community services agencies, Aboriginal communities, airports, and the security sector among others.

Another example of a federal union is CAPE, the Canadian Association of Professional Employees.

Examples of provincial/territorial unions

Manitoba, for example, has unions such as United Food & Commercial Workers Canada, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Operating Engineers.

Saskatchewan has the Food and Commercial Workers union, the Iron Workers union, CUPE Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union.

As you can see unions can be part of a section of workers, a particular profession, they can be big or small, but the point is that most workers in Canada can be a part of a union.

If you need information about how to form an employee union consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Definitions and Types of Unions

How to Form a Union Teamsters Local 31