Forming a Union: FAQ

1. How hard is it to form a union?

2. Will the company ever find out who has signed a card?

3. Can I discuss the pros and cons of a union while at work?

4. Is a company allowed to threaten or intimidate employees if it wants to stop unionization?

5. Are strikes common?

6. Are some employees not eligible to be unionized?

7. What about contract and freelance employees, can they be unionized?

8. Can an individual department be unionized or does the whole company have to be organized at one time?

9. What will be in our contract?

10. Does the company have to bargain fairly?

11. Why should I join a union if my boss is treating me OK?

12. Can the union protect incompetent employees?

13. What does it cost to belong to Local 87-M?

14. Where do the union dues go?

15. Who makes the decisions in Local 87-M?

16. How do unions across the country fight for workers rights together?


1: How hard is it to form a union?

If you and some of your co-workers want to form a union, you would meet with a Unifor organizer to discuss the issues at work. If we think we are ready to go and could get majority support from your coworkers, we begin signing union membership cards. These cards indicate that employees are interested in forming a union.

Ontario law requires 40 per cent of cards to be signed before we proceed to apply to the Ontario Labour Relations Board — a neutral government body —for certification. 

The labour board then conducts a vote. If most of those voting agree that they want a union, the board will certify the union as the employees' representative. This means that the company is legally obliged to recognize the union and bargain with it. 

For workplaces governed under The Canada Industrial Relations Board, a majority of workers must sign cards and pay a $5 fee. 

We will work with you during the entire process. Unifor 87-M has experienced organizers that can go over the details with you. Give us a call at 416-461-2461, or send us an email at

2: Will the company ever find out who has signed a card?

A: No.

When cards are submitted to the Labour Board, an official of the Board checks the signatures against a company-provided sample of employee signatures in order to verify that the union has legitimately signed up most employees. The company will find out how many employees signed, but will never know exactly who. The information is not released by the Labour Board. After certification, the leaders of the newly unionized group will be elected and the company will know who they are, but by that time it’s too late for the company to stop a union drive.

3: Can I discuss the pros and cons of a union while at work?

A: Yes.

Employers cannot prohibit you from discussing the union provided the conversation is within the usual range of social interaction that is allowed in the workplace. However, discussion about the union, or signing union cards, cannot interfere with anyone getting their work done. If you are in doubt, you can always err on the side of caution and keep it to the break room. 

4: Is a company allowed to threaten or intimidate employees if it wants to stop unionization?

A: No, this is illegal.

In our experience, most companies are sophisticated enough not to resort to intimidation. However company lawyers will advise managers to make statements that spark fears about strikes or tough bargaining by the employer. While it is illegal for any company to fire or penalize an employee who wants to form a union, most employees feel more comfortable if union organizing is done without the company's knowledge. The company will find out if the organizing drive is successful, since the labour board will order a vote.

5: Are strikes common?

A: No.

About 98 per cent of contracts are achieved through dispute-free negotiation. But if the members at a particular workplace are not willing to accept an inferior settlement they can decide to take a strike vote. A strike vote raises the stakes in negotiations, and contracts are most often settled after a strike vote but before a strike is begun.

No strike can occur without a majority vote by secret ballot, and only the bargaining team of elected employee representatives may actually call the strike.

6: Are some employees ineligible to be unionized?

A: Any full-time or part time employee is eligible.

However, labour laws exclude from unionization anyone who exercises managerial authority, including for example, the authority to hire and fire. Often we have disagreements with companies over who is managerial and the labour board has to decide. We usually argue that anyone who wants to be protected by a union should have that right.

The best way to answer these complicated questions is to discuss with us your own particular circumstances. Give us a call at 416-461-2461, or send us an email

7: What about contract and freelance employees, can they be unionized?

A: All contract employees are recognized by Ontario labour law as part of the bargaining unit covered by the union. All Local 87-M union contracts allow the company to hire temporary contract employees to cover maternity leaves and other short-term coverage situations. Any contract employee can sign a union card and cast a ballot in the union certification vote.

Freelance is often another word for not on the payroll. The Ontario Labour Relations Board has ruled that freelancers are actually permanent employees if they work extensive hours (full-time or nearly full-time) and are under the managerial control of the company. These full-time freelancers can sign a union card and cast a ballot in the union certification vote. If you are indeed an actual freelancer, The Canadian Freelance Union, also run by Unifor, is an option. 

8: Can an individual department be unionized or does the whole company have to be organized at one time?

A: In the media industry, unlike most others, the Labour Board will allow certification of a union representing only one department. But these one-department bargaining units usually have less bargaining power. For this reason, we usually prefer to organize an entire workplace at once, particularly when it is a small one.

If you think there is support for a union in only one department, the best thing is to discuss it with us and we can help advise you on the best strategy.

9: What will be in our contract?

A: Unions are organizations by the workers, for the workers, so it really depends on what the members want, and what we can negotiate with the company. The members at your workplace determine their own priorities, and negotiations will reflect that. Once you've formed a union, you'll select a bargaining committee consisiting of democratically elected staff at your workplace and a professional Unifor staff reprepresentative. You'll identify priorities for what you would like to get in your contract through meetings and surveys. 

Members have the right to vote on any settlement that is reached, by secret ballot vote. 

10: Does the company have to bargain fairly?

A: Yes.

Even hard-nosed companies must comply with the law. Ontario labour law requires a company to bargain in good faith and make all reasonable efforts to reach a contract. The Ontario Labour Relations Board enforces that. 

11: Why should I join a union if my boss is treating me OK?

A: For a lot of reasons.

To start with, your boss today may not be your boss tomorrow. Without a union contract, you have no guarantee that your wages and working conditions will not be undercut by a new boss or, for that matter, by a new owner.

Union’s can provide dignity in the workplace by ensuring that the employee-employer relationship is not controlled by just one party. The best strength employees can have is the strength they lend each other.

And if your boss genuinely likes you now, they will respect your right to choose a union. This choice will not damage a positive relationship.

12: Can the union protect incompetent employees?

A: No.

Local 87-M will not protect any member who is incompetent or guilty of gross misconduct. But in a unionized environment, a company cannot simply fire someone without having adequate grounds and being able to prove its case that firing is justified. If an employee believes he or she has been treated unfairly, the employee has a right to union representation; if the union believes a case can be made, we will pursue it.

13: What does it cost to belong to Local 87-M?

A: Union dues are 1.49 per cent of gross salary and are taken by payroll deduction, like CPP premiums. Union dues are tax deductible.

Union dues are not paid by new members until your elected bargaining representatives have negotiated a contract with the company and the staff have approved that contract in a majority vote. Union dues help you negotiate better salaries, benefits and working conditions and generally more than make up for the cost of dues. For example, young union workers earn, on average, $3.74 more an hour than non-union workers. For workers overall, the difference is $5.28 an hour, and women who work in union shops make $7.10 an hour more than their non-union counterparts. 

14: Where do the union dues go?

A: We all share in the benefits of collective bargaining, so it makes sense that everyone pays into the costs of building and maintaining a strong union. Local 87-M is a non-profit organization that only receives money from members' dues. The biggest expenditures are staff costs, which go to ensuring that contracts are negotiated professionally, grievances are pursued, members get signed up for courses they are interested in and outreach is done with potential new members. 

Grievance arbitration is another large expenditure. For example, if a member is fired unjustly, he or she has access to arbitration, often including the services of a lawyer, with all costs paid by the union.

The union also invests in developing our member’s skills by financially supporting educational courses.

Finally, a portion of dues is set aside for strike funds that provide income to strikers in the event that a strike is necessary to achieve a fair settlement.

15: Who makes the decisions in Local 87-M?

A: Unifor is a worker-run union. Each member gets a say in what they think the union should be doing, to debate issues, elect representatives or run themselves, vote on their contracts and have a say in other key issues. 

Bargaining units (in other words, each workplace) elect their own officers and manage their own affairs in accordance with Local 87-M bylaws and the constitution of our parent union, Unifor

Some of the positions members vote for include:

Stewards: These are front-line workers who are there as a point person to go to with questions and concerns. 

Bargaining committee: These coworkers represent you in collective bargaining, and, along with a professional Unifor representative, negotiate with the company on issues such as wages, benefits and working conditions. 

Local officers: These roles include President, Vice-Presidents, Secretary and Treasurer. 

Delegates: Delegates attend regional and national councils where we discuss union priorities, industry changes and strategies. 

16. How do unions across the country fight for workers rights together?

By going to the bargaining table together, employees get better wages and benefits from their employer.

Now multiply that improvement times the thousands of unionized workplaces across Canada. When more people are paid well and enjoy job security, the taxes they pay ensures stronger and safer communities. Those who belong to unions and benefit from good jobs help those in their community.

The larger societal benefits go beyond economic prosperity. Interesting research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argues that unions have a long history of protecting human rights, defending workers, and making life more secure. Check out the following reports:

· The Union Card: A Ticket Into Middle Class Stability (2015): Compares unionization and income data in Canada to show the impact declining union membership has had on the middle class.

· Unions and Democracy (2014): Unions have a positive influence on communities, Canadian society and the quality of democracy.

· Unions Boost Democracy and Prosperity for All (2015): An investigation on how Canadian unions work together across the country to fight for workers rights and social justice. Together they lobby the government for fair labour laws and workers’ safety and by fighting for fair wages they help people climb the economic ladder.