Alberta  -  Construction
Before You Are Unionized
Why Is The Union Interested In Me?

Most likely, the union is interested in you because it wants you paying dues to them and it wants more unionized employees in Canada. Sometimes employees find that a union does not want to unionize them and so won't do a union drive at their workplace – but this is rare. To unionize your workplace, the union must prove that at least a legally required minimum percentage of the group the union wants to unionize want the union to represent them. Depending on what Province you work in and what percentage of support the union has, this may lead to either immediate unionization of you based on the union cards the union gives to the Labour Board or it may lead to a vote. See Will I Get to Vote On Whether There is a Union or Not? for information on whether the law that affects you allows card based unionization or requires a secret ballot vote.

The union may be interested in you and your coworkers for other reasons. The union seeking your Member support may have certain goals for your workplace, for example the rules, pay levels, etc. They may want to help employees with concerns about your employer or your workplace, solve those concerns. It may be trying to collect more money through new union dues or to gain more power in a part of the economy by adding to its size.

Many unions also use your dues for purposes that are not directly focused on you and your workplace, such as giving money to a political party. You should ask them about everything that they or the national or international union offices spend your money on – even ask them to document who they have given money to in recent years.

You should learn more about the union that's approaching you so you can understand it. You may find some information on the union's web site or in its general literature, constitution or bylaws. Make sure that you are informed. Ask questions of union organizers, whether they are your fellow employees or others. Ask yourself if they can deliver on their promises or if what they say makes sense to you. If the organizers are being critical of your employer — are the criticisms accurate and factual and are their solutions appropriate? Are there options other than unionizing your employer?

Updated: 2013-11-17
What Are My Rights?

You are free to decide whether you want a union to represent you or not during a union drive. Generally, the law says you should not feel forced to make this decision and that no one should try to influence your decision using illegal threats, penalties, intimidation or promises. Basically, nobody can legally punish or reward you for joining or not joining a union during a union drive - not your employer, the union or anyone else - including your fellow employees. Once unionized there can be consequences for not joining the union or not remaining a Member "in good standing". Call us at LabourWatch if you feel you are being penalized in some way for not becoming or remaining a union Member "in good standing".

You are free to express your opinions about unions to your coworkers and to promote your views. But, you need to be careful that your coworkers do not feel intimidated or threatened by you.

Unless your employer approves, the union reps or fellow employees (who support the union), should not try to get you to sign a union card during paid work time. If the union or its employee supporters does this you can ask them not to bother you while you are working. Similarly, you are free to decide whether you will allow the union to solicit you at home as well as when you are coming to and from work. If a union comes to your home you can invite them in or tell them to leave you alone. If they do not leave you alone you may want to call the police.

You are always free to request information from the union and your employer so you can make an informed decision. Finally, it is your right to make a formal complaint called an Unfair Labour Practice to theAlberta Labour Relations Board (see Contacts), if anyone violates your rights and threatens, intimidates or harasses you about your decision to join or not join a union. LabourWatch has a special section to help you understand what might be illegal union actions and how to file a formal complaint with the Labour Board.

Updated: 2013-11-17
How Do Unions Organize?

It is common for a union organizing campaign to include some or all of the following:

  • The union receives information that employees may be interested in a union or that some employees are concerned about something at their workplace. Sometimes, the union will get this information from employees, their friends or family or, maybe, just from the "talk on the street/the internet." This a union drive that starts on the “inside” of a workplace.
  • Other times, it is the union itself that decides to target a specific Employer or group of employees and so starts a union drive from “outside” a workplace.
  • The union contacts some employees to find out more about why they are unhappy or why they want to be unionized. Or, the union targets employees and tries to get them interested in unionization.
  • The union asks some employees for the addresses and phone numbers of other employees so they can be contacted at home. It may be against privacy policies of your employer for anyone to take a list they should not have (such as taking one from a supervisor's office) and give such information to a union employee. That this is wrong rarely stops a union from trying to get employees on the inside to get copies of schedules or ideally contact lists for organizers to use. The only exception would be an order from a Court or the Labour Board ordering such personal home contact information to be given to a union to use for its union drive.)
  • The union will try to gather a core group of employees. These employees will be used to recruit others (employees are usually more likely to talk to fellow employees than to strangers).
  • The union will market its services to other employees. Are you sure that they can deliver?
  • The union will likely have people visit other employees at their homes to try to get them, and maybe their families, excited about joining the union. This may also be done at some other meeting place like a restaurant.
  • The union may try to draw attention to many sources of unhappiness. Sometimes, it may present the best collective agreements it has and compare them with current wages and benefits at your employer. Other times they just make claims without any proof. Ask to see the most recent Collective Agreement the union has agreed to in your industry.
  • Once the union believes it has some support, it will begin to get employees to sign the documents it needs to send to the Labour Board to try to unionize your workplace.
  • Once some employees sign up, the union will approach others and may tell them it almost has enough support. In some circumstances, employees are told it would be helpful or better for them to sign so the union can file its Application.
  • Be very careful if you are asked to sign a card and told that you will still get to vote — this may or may not always be true. See Will I Get to Vote on Whether There is a Union or Not?
Updated: 2013-11-17
What Should I Consider When Deciding Whether To Sign A Union Card Or Not?

Deciding whether you want to sign a union support document or not may be a little easier after asking yourself these questions:

  • "Am I content with my working conditions and the way things are working?"
  • "What would I like to see changed at work?"
  • "Is it reasonable to think a union will be able to change those things?"
  • "Are the changes I want at the top of the list of changes others want?"
  • "Does my employer respond to valid employee concerns?"
  • "Are my concerns best solved through discussions with my employer or through a union?"
  • "Are the union's claims about improvements it claims it can get, including wages and benefits or job security realistic?"
  • "Does a union understand my job well enough that I am willing to let one bargain on my behalf?"
  • "What improvements would be necessary to pay for the added costs of having a union, including the potential costs of strikes and lockouts?"

Be very careful if you are asked to sign a document and told that you will still get to vote — this may or may not always be true. See Will I Get to Vote on Whether There is a Union or Not?

Updated: 2013-11-17
What If The Union Comes To My Home?

You are free to decide whether you want to let the union contact you at home.

Since unions are usually not allowed to solicit you while you are working, they often try visiting or calling people at home or on your way to and from work.

However, if a union contacts you and you have decided you do not want to support or join the union, tell them you are not interested. You are not required to talk to a union organizer at your door or let her or him into your home.

If unwanted visits or calls continue you have several options:

  • You might tell the union organizer you are feeling harassed.
  • You can make a complaint to the Alberta Labour Relations Board.
  • You could even report them to your telephone company or the police.

If you are wondering, "How did the union get my home phone number and address?" know that, in most workplaces, it is against their policies to give out personal information aboutany coworker. Lists of names, schedules, contact information for others should never be taken and given to a union. It does not matter whether you decide to support the union or not, you may want to contact a lawyer, if you feel your right to privacy has been violated.

Updated: 2013-11-17
What If I Have Signed A Union Card But Don't Support The Union?

See our guide about How To Cancel a Union Card.

Updated: 2011-06-20
What Does Signing A Union Card Mean?

The union card shows you are a member of the Union and wish to be unionized or “represented” by the union.

By signing a union Card (or Application for union Membership), you are signing a Membership contract. You are agreeing that you will obey the union's rules and regulations.

Unlike most Membership Cards, the union Card (or Application for union Membership) is also used to prove you support of the union's attempt to unionize your workplace.

Your signature on a union Card (or Application for union Membership) will be used to prove to the Alberta Labour Relations Board that you support the union. If enough union Cards (or Applications for union Membership) have been signed, a vote may be taken about whether the union will be certified. In some provinces, and in federally-regulated workplaces, if enough Cards (or Applications for union Membership) have been signed, the union can be automatically certified - without a vote. Learn more about this in Will I Get to Vote on Whether There is a Union or Not? Also, in some provinces the Labour Board can find an employer guilty of what are generally called Unfair Labour Practices (ULPs) and the Labour Board may impose a union even if very few Cards have been signed based on the idea that employees can no longer make a choice free of the impact of the employer’s conduct.

Before you sign a union Card (or Application for union Membership), you should read the union's general literature as well as its constitution and bylaws. You should know what your financial obligations will be, what rules will you be expected to follow and what the union's political and organizational goals are. Also, know what else they will do with your money other than activities related to your workplace.

In unionized workplaces in Canada, you must (in most cases), join a union that is certified by the ALRB and a Collective Agreement is negotiated. You must remain a Member in good standing. If you refuse to join or are thrown out of the union they may, in some provinces, be able to force your employer to fire you depending on what is in your Collective Agreement. You may recall or sometimes see media stories about unions threatening their Members with this possibility.

Ask for and be sure to keep a copy of anything you sign.

You do not have to sign a Card (or Application for union Membership) during a union drive. It is against the law for a union rep or a fellow employee to threaten you or your family, to aggressively pressure or coerce you to sign a Card (or Application for union Membership). If this happens, report it immediately to:

  • Your Supervisor, Senior Manager or Owner.
  • The Police (if physical harm happens or is threatened)
  • The Labour Board (see our Contacts section on the website).
Updated: 2017-01-06
How Much Will Joining A Union Cost Me?

Most unions are large organizations. But, unlike most large businesses, most unions don't usually sell products. Instead, the union's expenses must be paid by the employees it represents. To raise money, the union collects union dues and, maybe, initiation fees and special assessments or charges from the employees in its bargaining units. Depending on the union's rules, it may be able to fine members who don't obey them.

The union will set the amount you have to pay. If you are thinking about joining a union, you should find out how much you will be charged each month and what rules there are to stop the union from changing these amounts. Your employer does not have a role in setting how much union members pay to the union.

TIP: We suggest you get this information in writing or ask the union to highlight the areas in its pamphlets, constitution or bylaws that address these issues.

As we mentioned before, unions may, on occasion, also require special assessments. This money is used for such things as strike funds, political campaigns, building funds, and other projects the union feels are important. They may ask or make you pay money for workers somewhere else.

Updated: 2010-05-04
What Can I Do To Support Or Oppose The Union?

A few of the things that you can do are listed below:

You are free to express your opinions about unions to your coworkers and to promote your views. But, you need to be careful that your coworkers do not feel intimidated or threatened by you.

You can collect as much information as possible and share it with your coworkers.

Information about the Union

Ask the union organizers questions and read the union's pamphlets and other documents. Also, review the union's web site for more information. See “What Should I Consider When Deciding Whether To Sign A Union Card Or Not?”

Information about your Employer

When asked questions about working conditions, good employers will try to give their employees as much information as possible and to help them make informed decisions. The law does not stop you from asking your employer questions about unions. But, the law does limit how your employer can answer your questions.

You can talk to a labour lawyer or labour relations consultant. These professionals are usually very willing to discuss these types of situations with employees and may be able to direct you to resources that suit your needs.

If you know other coworkers who share you views you can work together to promote your shared views. You can also hold your own meetings to discuss unions, if you want.

Make sure you express your views accurately when you decide to sign or not to sign a union card. If you support the union, you should sign a union card. However, if you don't support the union, oppose it, or just don't want to be represented by it, don't sign a union card. If you feel this way and have signed a card, perhaps under pressure from a union organizer, you may want to write to the union to revoke your membership with them. If you’re going to do this, you should ask for a copy of the union’s constitution, in case there are specific steps that have to be taken in order to revoke a membership. In any event, if a vote is held, make sure to cast a ballot and express your true wishes not to be represented by the union.

You may wish to wear something like a button or T-shirt that expresses your opinion. Before you do this, think about whether it suits your workplace. Be sure to inquire into your employer's policy about dress codes, uniforms, and wearing buttons or T-shirts with logos.

Updated: 2010-05-04
What If I Just Don't Care?

It's your choice to be indifferent. For you, the question "Do I want the union to represent me or not?" may have no clear or easy answer.

But, since unionization of your workplace will affect you, this is not a choice to be left to others. Get as much information as you can about the union soliciting you and about unions in general. Spend some time thinking about it. If you don’t vote, others will be deciding for you whether you will be represented by a union.

If, after considering your options, you still don't care, don't sign a union card and don't vote. At least this way the choice is made by those who care, one way or the other, about whether there is a union or not.

Updated: 2010-05-04
Can We 'Try The Union Out' For A Few Months?

While it sounds simple, it may be very difficult. There are also a few things you need to know about, if you are considering "trying the Union out":

  • There are rigid rules about when you can apply to decertify (get rid of) a union. These rules vary across Canada from a low of 10 months to a high of nearly three years. See “How Do I Decertify a Union?” for details.
  • There are also complicated rules and procedures to follow when trying to get rid of a union. You have to follow these rules precisely or the Labour Board may ignore your attempt.
  • The union and its supporters may try to stop you from getting rid of the union.

Joining a union is not like joining a club. When you join a club you usually find out what the rules are up front. Has the union given you a copy of all of their rules that may affect you? Some clubs let you try them out – give you time to decide. You can’t really try out a union in the same way. Finally, quitting a club is usually easy. Quitting a union that has a Collective Agreement can lead to the loss of your job. Decertifying (getting rid of) the union can be difficult. During a drive it is never true that you have to sign a card.

Updated: 2010-05-04
What Can The Union Guarantee?

The only things a union can guarantee are things it can control. For example, things like rules of membership and union dues.

The union may promise you many things but there are only a few that they can guarantee:

  • Your obligation to pay union dues or fees.
  • The application of the union’s rules to you as a member – to discipline you or terminate your membership which may require, in some provinces, your employer to fire you.
  • The possibility of being on strike or of being locked out of your workplace.

A union can't guarantee job security because it doesn't control the market. How can a union make promises about business conditions and profits? How can unions guarantee steady work? Seniority rights are not the same as job security - if you are more qualified for a position, but are not the most senior, is this the kind of job security you want? If you need and have or want flexible scheduling do you want seniority (length of service or employment) to decide who gets what schedule and control scheduling changes? If you are the best performer, do you want the length of employment of a lesser, or even the weakest performer, to determine who is laid off?

A union can't guarantee better wages and benefits. Unions may set goals for bargaining wages. Sometimes, these goals can be very attractive and exciting. But, they're not promises or guarantees. There are no automatic increases in wages or any benefits just because there's a union. All union demands need to be bargained between the union and your employer and if they can't reach an agreement there may be a strike or lockout. Will the union pay you your same wage during a strike? – ask them – it rarely happens.

Everything must be negotiated with your employer. The union cannot guarantee what it cannot force your employer to do or that your employer is unable to give. The union may make many promises to you but there is little you can do to hold them accountable for any broken promises.

Updated: 2010-05-04
Advancing Employee Rights
Federal or Province
Caution

In most cases you will select the province where you work.

However, select "Federal and Territories", if any of the following apply:

  • You live in Northwest Territories, Nunavut or Yukon.
  • You work as a federal civil servant anywhere in Canada.
  • You work in one of the following industries:
    • airports or air transportation
    • broadcasting - radio, television or cable television
    • telecommunications
    • banking
    • fisheries (but only if your business relates to the protection and preservation of fisheries as a natural resource)
    • shipping and navigation (including loading and unloading vessels)
    • grain handling
    • uranium mining and processing
    • certain federal crown agencies
  • You work in one of the following industries AND (a) your activities connect one province to another OR (b) extend beyond the limit of one province:
    • air transport
    • canals
    • ferries, tunnels and bridges
    • highway transport of good or passengers
    • railway transport of goods or passengers