Chapter 5: The Organizing Campaign and the Union Perspective

The Organizing Campaign

Industrial Relations in Canada – 4th Edition (Mcquarrie)

The campaign

  • Canadian labour legislation recognizes the right of most employees to freely choose to be a member of a union
  • Many employees are first introduced to the idea of joining a union through an organizing campaign
  • An organizing campaign is conducted by a union to persuade employees to choose the union as their legal representative

Factors Affecting Employee Support for a Union

  1. Personal Factors
  2. Parents’ views on unions and one’s own socioeconomic status may be an influence
  3. Instrumentality: will a union give workers a greater voice in the workplace?
  4. Perception of the specific union and self-identity
  5. Workplace Factors
  6. The most common reason for employee interest in unionizing is dissatisfaction with workplace conditions
  7. Unionization may be perceived as a way to address:
  8. Dissatisfaction with compensation
  9. Management ignoring workplace issues
  10. Union-related attitudes of co-workers may also be influential
  11. Structure of workplace and type of work may also have an effect
  12. Economic Factors
  13. Workers’ pay levels
  14. Unemployment Rate
  15. Inflation Rate
  16. Societal Factors
  17. Attitudes and perceptions about unions
  18. Whether labour legislation facilitates or hinders union certification

Steps in the Organizing Campaign

  • A successful campaign results in the union being able to request recognition as the bargaining agent for the employees
  • Employees may decide to form own union
  • Employees may want to join an existing union
  • Union may contact dissatisfied workers and suggest unionization

Step 1 \rightarrow The Information Meeting

The First Formal Step - Interested employees meet with a union representative off site and after hours

  • Identities of employees interested in unionization and the meeting location are usually kept secret from employer and from pro-employer workers
  • If those at the information meeting feel an organizing campaign could be successful, an organizing committee will be created
  • Committee members will contact other employees seeking a formal indication of support for the union
  • Support can be shown by signing a membership card or by paying a small amount of money to the union

A constant concern through the campaign is unfair labour practices

  • Actions by union or employer that make potential union members act differently than they would have otherwise
  • Outcome of certification vote might not reflect employees’ actual desires
  • Labour relations law generally bans unfair labour practices

Factors Affecting the Success of an Organizing Campaign

  • Unions must identify what is important to workers and address those concerns while attempting to organize
  • Campaign is also affected by the amount of control workers have over the campaign and amount of worker participation in campaign activities
  • Employer’s response to organizing campaign can also affect its success or failure

Step 2 \rightarrow Application for Certification

When the organizing committee believes it has sufficient membership support, the union files an application for certification with the appropriate labour relations board

This form has three major components

  1. An indication of sufficient membership support
  2. A description of the desired bargaining unit (the group of employees that will be represented in collective bargaining with the employer)
  3. Who the employer is and who the union is

Sufficient Membership Support

  • The required level of support varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction
  • The labour board may certify the union without the ‘required’ level of support if the employer has engaged in an unfair labour practice
  • In some jurisdictions, if the support exceeds the required level, there may be automatic certification for the union
  • The Board will also consider the timeliness of the application \rightarrow how long the union has taken to get the required support

Appropriate Bargaining Unit

  • Every certification application must contain a description of the bargaining unit the union seeks to represent
  • The principle underlying the bargaining unit description is community of interest, i.e., enough in common among the members to make a cohesive and representative unit

The appropriateness of a bargaining unit will be assessed on its size and location(s) the number of management and non-management employees, and the definition of an employee

Size and location

  • The union wishes to represent as many employees as possible; also it will gain more revenue from union dues
  • Representing more employees will give union more power in bargaining with employer
  • The Board tries to balance the bargaining power of the employer and of the union

Managerial and non-managerial employees

  • Usually management members are not entitled to be a part of the bargaining unit B
  • But determining who is a manager is sometimes problematic
  • Exempt employees are usually excluded from the bargaining unit

Defining an “employee”

Employee - Someone who works on a regular basis for an employer in a dependent relationship and under the employer’s direction and control

  • If a worker has an ongoing dependent relationship, regardless of actual contract terms, the worker should be considered an employee and be included in the bargaining unit
  • Criteria a labour relations board will consider when determining who is the employer
  • Where does the authority for hiring lie?
  • What part of the business is accountable for establishing and monitoring work conditions?
  • Who exercises control over day-to-day work and production?
  • Board may also determine whether several business entities are a ‘single employer’ or ‘common employer’

Trade union \rightarrow The application must come from a bona fide union

  • Under most labour codes, a bona fide union:
  • Is established without employer interference
  • Is run on democratic principles
  • A company union would not be recognized as a bona fide union because it is dominated or formed by the employer
  • Company unions often result in collective agreements known as “sweetheart agreements”

The Union Perspective


  • The function and role of unions in contemporary Canadian society
  • Unions purposes and philosophies
  • The org. and structure of unions
  • The diff. b/w craft/occupations, industrial, public-sector unionism
  • Democratic process of unions
  • Why employees join unions
  • Changing union membership patterns
  • Labour and the environment
  • Unions challenged by globalization and liberalization of markets, changes in the nature of work, and shifts in the composition of the labour force
  • Globalization capital move freely b/w countries and so decrease union bargaining power
  • Shift to a more individualistic employment relationship


  • 3 broad approaches to why unions exist: economics, politics, human rights
  • Eco and pol approaches derived from early views expressed by institutionalists in industrial relations
  • Human rights rational grew out of the internationalization of labour rights

Institutionalists - Those subscribing to the theory that the operations of labour markets require a knowledge and understanding of such social organizations as unions, non-government community organizations, and international institutions


  • Unions would improve both the efficiency and equity of markets by providing a greater balance of bargaining power between individuals and firms


  • Institutionalist objectives for union: promoting industrial democracy

Industrial democracy \rightarrow profit-sharing, government ownership of the means of production

Keys Elements of Industrial Democracy

  1. Employee voice in determining work rule
  2. A written law of workplace rules
  3. A binding procedure for the enforcement of the written law
  4. A balance of power between management and labour


  • International Labour Organization (ILO) \rightarrow (government, management, labour) agency of the UN with the mandate to establish and enforce global labour standards
  • Established standards such as freedom from child labour, freedom of association, right to collective bargaining


  • 2 elements must be met
  • Unions must have, as one of their purposes, collective bargaining with the firm
  • Unions must be independent of the employer
  • Thus, an organization created by the employer, a company union, would not qualify as a union under Canadian labour law.

Company Union

A union that a company helped create

  • Non-collective bargaining activities of unions vary considerably according to such factors as
  • The union’s history (violent, peaceful)
  • Industry (private, public)
  • The aims of the founding members (eco, pol, rlg)
  • 3 waves of unionization in Canada
  • Craft
  • Industrial
  • Public Sector


Unions that typically allow into membership only trades or occupations that are in the same family of skills

  • Single occupation unions tend to focus on non-collective bargaining activities of maintaining the skill, training and education of the crafts/profession
  • May try to control entry into the craft/profession
  • Business unionism that emphasizes economic gains through collective bargaining
  • Primary non-collective bargaining activities are related to promoting the craft/profession, there is often not a strong social agenda
  • Example \rightarrow Ontario nurses’ association


  • Industrial unionism welcomed both skilled and unskilled occupations into membership
  • Industrial unions sought to represent all of the production and office workers of a firm at a given location or at several locations of plants.
  • More class-based and goes beyond collective bargaining to include societal reform.
  • Aka - Social Unionism
  • Example \rightarrow United food and commercial workers Canada


  • Due to expansion in services
  • Public sector or social justice unionism \rightarrow Unions of public sector employees at all 3 levels of gov’t’ typically advocates of a philosophy of social justice.


  • Unions that don’t fit into the previously mentioned 3 categories
  • Example \rightarrow Christian labour association of Canada
  • Another type of “other” union is the independent local or enterprise union. It is possible to organize a union that is not affiliated with either a national or international union. These unions tend to have limited political and social agendas.



In Canada 2 largest unions both represent public sector employees (CUPE and NUPGE)


Example \rightarrow CUPE being affiliated with CLC (figure 5.1 Union Affiliation in Canada)

Figure 5.2 Organizational Functions


  • Institutional scholars have identified the necessity for unions to practice a strong internal democratic procedures
  • Internal union democracy has been shown to be an important factor in winning union elections and worker perceptions of union power
  • Democracy important for unions for the following reasons
  1. Democracy gives workers a voice
  2. Makes unions more effective
  3. Helps mobilize member support
  4. Having a choice is of great symbolic value and considerably increases the members’ identification with their union
  5. Unearths and trains leaders
  • Several factors that may influence their democratic practices
  • Research
  • Union democracy is improving
  • Corruption among some unions persists but seems to be declining overall
  • IT has had a positive impact on democracy in unions, enabling members to participate more in the activities of the union
  • Email makes union officials accessible


  • All unions have democratic structures
  • Decision process often slow


Major theories why employees join unions

  2. Employees who perceive that their company is doing better financially or that their industry has growth potential have a much greater desire to join a union
  3. Feeling of entitlement to share the company’s success
  5. Employees will join unions if the unions are able to satisfy a utility function
  6. Utility Function - The sum of individual preferences for such measurable items as wages and benefits
  • Political, family, communal = reasons to join
  • Employee dissatisfaction
  • Blue-collar workers economic or extrinsic satisfaction more important
  • Workers with tenure were more likely to want to join a union
  • Women, minorities, immigrants more inclined to want to join a union


  • Require employees to join union even if they don’t want to
  • Unionized employees who are dissatisfied with their compensation and benefits
  • If the union fails to fulfill its primary function of providing distributive justice


Union Density - A fraction that expresses union membership as a percentage of the non-agricultural labour force

Union Coverage - A broader measure than union density; includes non-members covered by the collective agreement

Closed Shop - A form of union security in which membership in the union is a condition of employment

Union Shop - A form of union security in which new employees must join the union but only after a probation period (usually 90 days)

Rand Formula

A union security provision in which employees do not have to join the union but all employees must pay dues

  • Union density stats answer the question of whether the growth in union membership has kept pace with the natural growth in the labour force.

Union Density = (union members/labour force) x 100

  • Union coverage is another measure of unionization
  • To understand the diff between union density and union coverage need to explain the various forms of union security.
  • Union security refers to the ability of the union to sign up new members that are hired by the firm into their bargaining unit. Certain aspects of union security may be found in labour legislation or in the collective agreement
  • Important categories of union security include: closed shop, union shop, rand formula.
  • Union coverage greater than union density because non-members are included
  • Canada vs US \rightarrow Divergence in union density
  • Higher rate of public-service unionization in Canada
  • Greater ability of unions to recruit new members in Canada
  • More favorable laws in Canada
  • Faster certification procedures and card systems that provide automatic recognition, without need for a vote.



  • 1997 \rightarrow Men mostly in union; 2005 \rightarrow mix w and m; 2012-more women


  • 2012 \rightarrow Employees under 25 years and 64+ were much less likely to belong to a union or to be covered by a collective agreement than employees between the ages of 25-64


  • Union density varies widely by province


  • Made unions choose between job security and occupational or even health. But now CLC transitioning to a green economy and a sustainable future

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