Fraser Forum

Dispelling myths (Part 3): that worker choice is "not necessary since workers can decertify unions”

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In this third and final blog post in a series responding to objections to increasing worker choice in Canada (see Part 1 and Part 2), we address the notion that union decertification makes worker choice unnecessary. As one federal politician recently put it: “If there is broad lack of support for being unionized, decertify.” In other words, this is supposed to imply that it is not necessary to ensure workers have a choice about joining and financially supporting a union since they can simply get rid of the union as a collective by decertifying the union as the bargaining agent.

But the reality is that under current labour relations laws, it can be difficult to decertify a union. The process for decertification requires time and resources to organize workers who want to decertify. Individual workers—on their own or working together—may find it difficult and costly to organize a decertification drive.

In Canada’s private sector, the process for decertifying a union is generally similar to certifying a union as the bargaining agent. The first step is to convince a minimum percentage of workers (for example, 40 per cent in Ontario) represented by the union to sign a petition. In some cases, this could mean rallying hundreds, if not thousands, of colleagues. The petition is then included in an application to decertify which is submitted to the provincial labour relations board at which point in most provinces a mandatory vote is held (there is no mandatory vote in Quebec or Prince Edward Island).

When it comes to the certification process, union organizers at least have the resources and expertise of the union to support them in their efforts. By contrast, individual workers who want to decertify are up against the established union organization, which is often affiliated with large national organizations. It would take a great deal of effort for individual workers who do not want to be part of a unionized workforce to organize a decertification drive.

The details of labour relations laws in particular jurisdictions can make it even more difficult to decertify a union. For example, in Manitoba, the threshold for support in an application to decertify is 50 per cent of workers which is higher than the 40 per cent threshold for certification. In most Canadian jurisdictions, the process is further complicated by limiting the time period that an application can be submitted. In Ontario, if the private sector union contract lasts for three years, an application to decertify can only be submitted in the last three months of the contract term. So, for the other 33 months, workers have no mechanism for leaving the union unless they leave their job.

Decertification is an important option for workers but alone is not enough to ensure that workers have a choice. Ensuring that individual workers can choose whether to join and financially support a union would truly empower workers.


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