Canada: Union Certifications: What Employers Need To Know About Union Organizing

Last Updated: October 8 2018
Article by Craig Lawrence

Few events can more dramatically impact the way your business operates than the certification of a union. In its simplest terms, a union certification represents the end of an employer's 1:1 relationship with its employees, and the start of a collective bargaining relationship in which the union is the voice of employees.

Understanding the way that unions acquire bargaining rights and become certified under the Ontario Labour Relations Act is the first step to effectively managing and responding to organizing efforts in the workplace.

Union Organizing Drives

The goal of an organizing drive is for the union to be certified by the Ontario Labour Relations Board ("the Board") as the exclusive bargaining agent for all employees in a specified bargaining unit. In many cases, that bargaining unit is defined as all employees of a particular employer, often within a particular municipality, and will typically identify a number of exclusions. Most exclusions are determined by the Labour Relations Act, as managers, supervisors and persons above those ranks are excluded, along with persons employed in confidential labour relations capacities. In general, both unions and the Board favour "all employee" bargaining units, rather than fragmenting a workforce into smaller bargaining units.

In order to be certified as the exclusive bargaining agent for a particular bargaining unit, the union must complete a series of steps set out under the Labour Relations Act. A drive to collect membership cards is the first step of that certification process.

i. Membership Cards

A union's first goal in an organizing drive is usually to collect as many signed union membership cards as possible from the employees in the applicable bargaining unit. Each membership card is signed and dated by an employee and states that the employee wishes to be represented by the union in question. The union must file signed cards on behalf of at least 40% of the members in the proposed bargaining unit along with an application for certification to the Board.

ii. Application for Certification

Along with the membership cards, the union must file an application to the Board setting out a host of information, including the description of the proposed bargaining unit, the number of employees that the union believes to be employed in that unit, as well as details as to how the Board should conduct a secret-ballot vote of the employees. Importantly, the membership cards are confidential; at no time will the employer be informed as to the identity of the employees who signed cards.

The application must be served on the employer and filed with Board, and in turn triggers an obligation on the employer to file a response to the application within two (2) business days. In many cases, an application will be served and filed at the end of day Friday, and an employer will be obligated to respond by the end of the following Tuesday. The employer's response must include a detailed list of employees in the proposed bargaining unit (which allows the Board to assess whether the 40% threshold has been met), identify whether the employer agrees or disagrees with the proposed bargaining unit description (and counter-propose a different description if in disagreement), and respond to the union's proposals on a secret-ballot vote.

iii. Secret-Ballot Vote

The Board reviews the application and response to determine whether the application will proceed, including whether the bargaining unit proposed by the union could be appropriate for collective bargaining, and whether the application is supported by at least 40% of the employees in the proposed unit. If the statutory criteria are met, the Board will order a vote of all affected employees to occur on the fifth day following the date on which the application was filed. For example, if an application is filed on a Friday, the Board will typically hold a vote of all affected employees on the following Friday. This is a very short window of time should an employer be caught flat-footed and unaware of the union organizing campaign!

iv. Success or Failure

The outcome of the vote is determined by a simple majority (50%+1) of those who vote. For example, if a proposed bargaining unit includes 100 employees, but only 10 show up to vote, if 6 or more of those employees vote in favour of the union, then the union will be certified to represent all 100 employees. Accordingly, it is critical that as many employees cast a ballot as possible to ensure that the majority of employees determine whether the union's application succeeds or fails.

Please note that the construction sector in Ontario has specific procedures and rules that differ from the overview addressed above, and include an automatic certification procedure that can result in certification without a vote of employees. Should you have questions regarding the construction sector we encourage you to contact us directly.

WEBINAR October 17, 2018:

Click here to register for Dentons' live webinar on October 17, 2018 for further details on union organizing drives, an employer's rights and obligations during such drives, and potential changes that may be made by the Ford government. The Webinar will also feature a Q & A discussion.

For more information, visit our Employment and Labour blog at

About Dentons

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. Specific Questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Practice Guides
by Mondaq Advice Centres
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions