Unionizing 101

Part of our guide to your rights as a worker in B.C.
Thinking about unionizing?

There are many reasons why you might want to unionize your workplace, and the good news is, you can address and develop long term solutions to many issues at once by leading a strong union campaign!

Read on!

What do unions do?

Unions act as a vehicle for workers to advance their interests as a group and improve their working conditions.

With a union, you and your coworkers can shape the terms of your work (e.g. wages, schedules, uniforms, benefits) by creating a legally binding collective agreement.

Why do workers unionize?

Some of the most common drivers for unionizing include: Poor wages, inconsistent scheduling with a poor work/life balance, no paid sick days, wage and tip theft, harassment and discrimination, heavy workload, poor hiring/firing/promotion practices, an unhappy or unsafe work environment and a lack of recognition.

You have the right to form a union!

Unionizing is inherently stressful, but in B.C. you have enshrined rights to pursue union representation:

  • An employer may not threaten to lay off workers, to close their store, or to declare bankruptcy in order to dissuade union certification. Doing so is illegal.
  • Moreover, they may not fire or reprimand you for trying to unionize, and if you believe they have done so either directly or under the guise of another issue, you may be able to get your job back. Contact your union representative right away if this is happening to you and be sure to write everything down as soon as it happens.

It is typical for those who benefit from your exploitation to resist the formation of collective power, and if you look back through history you will learn about how common and aggressive ‘union busting’ tactics and fear mongering can be.

How do I form a union?

A general guide to unionizing:

1. Find one or two coworkers to discreetly talk with about unionizing.

Only discuss unions outside of the workplace or during unpaid time. Be prepared to field questions and actively listen to your coworkers if they have concerns. A union is formed both by and for one another.

When you begin campaigning, it pays to be discreet. It is unadvised to discuss the union openly at your workplace until you receive a certification vote date. This is because once your boss is aware and is put on notice, this leaves your campaign vulnerable to discouraging tactics for a longer period of time. Start by only talking with people you trust, and considering using code words with each other that you can use at work on the days that feel more difficult than others. Having a union is sort of like having a lawyer, but you need your coworkers’ approval to hire them.


2. Research your local unions.

When you’ve picked one or two, call to ask for a meeting. If possible, be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • How many employees are in your department?
  • How many stores does your employer have in the region?
  • What do your coworkers think about the employer?
  • What are the wages and benefits for your job?

When choosing a union, don’t be thrown off by their name. Many unions today represent more than one industry! Some major options in BC include:

Find a list of more unions here.


3. After you’ve chosen your union, you sign a membership card.

These cards signify that the union may help you build up a campaign going forward, and include space to sign your name, contact info and signature. Cards are confidential and your employer will not see it. If you already have a group of coworkers on board, ask them to sign membership cards, or help by talking to 3 or 4 other staff members they trust about the reasons for signing. Do not sign cards while on shift! Once they have been signed, return them to your union representative as soon as you can.


4. Work with your union representative to build your campaign!

Slowly open the discussion of unionizing with other coworkers, but never discuss the union during paid working hours and be sure that you can trust the people you speak to. Try meeting with coworkers before or after work, or offer to meet them on their day off. Be careful with text messages or Facebook messages sent to people that might not be on board.


5a. (NEW! Updated June 2022) After 55% or more of employees have signed cards,

the union will be certified and no further vote is required. Read more about single-step certification here and Bill 10, the Labour Relations Code Amendment Act here.


5b. If between 45% and 55% or more of employees sign union membership cards,

a second step consisting of a representation (secret ballot) cote is required and a majority must vote in favour of representation by the union for certification.


6. File your application with the BC Labour Relations Board.

Once you are above the 55% mark, file your application at the BC Labour Relations Board for certification for the union. The Labour Board will review all the signed membership cards received. If 55% of employees are represented, a union is instantly certified.


7. When your union has been certified, they will begin preparation for negotiations.

This may take a few months, but eventually you will sit down with your union representative, your employer and their counsel to hash out a collective bargaining agreement.


8. The terms of the contract come into effect

when the agreement has been ratified (voted on), by the employees and accepted. The employer and the union will agree to renegotiate the terms within a set amount of time, usually 1, 2 or 5 years.

What information will I need?

It’s a good idea to store essential information while preparing to unionize. This could include: Your coworkers’ contact information, your work contract, paystubs, schedules, employee manuals, emails from the employer, a copy of your anti-harassment policy, and a copy of the benefits plan. 

You might also find yourself building documents during your union campaign. These might include: A grievance list with input from your coworkers, a list of contract proposals to remedy grievances, coworkers schedules, copies of incident logs if relevant to your grievance list, and more.

Where do my union dues go?

Contacting the union, building your campaign and negotiating your first contract is free. After your first Collective Bargaining Agreement (new employment contract) is ratified, the union will take a 1-3% deduction off of every paycheque. You will usually get more back from collective bargaining in both monetary and non-monetary items than you lose to union dues. Union dues are also 100% tax-deductible.

Union dues are collected in order to pay your union representatives, your union legal departments, to build up public campaigns, to host meetings and training sessions for bargaining units, shop stewards, and union members, to support striking workers and to perform market research that helps prepare union contracts, and much more.

Will the Worker Solidarity Network support us?

At the Worker Solidarity Network, we believe in a living wage and fair conditions, and we want to help you get it. But, the WSN is not a union. We are a solidarity network of precarious workers and we help to achieve workplace justice through community solidarity demonstrations, education and support in navigating the processes available, and fighting for better labour conditions in B.C.

We advise workers looking to unionize to seek support from their chosen local union!