How Do Unions Form and Become Certified in Ontario?

 In Employment Law

With the economic downturn resulting from COVID-19, employees and unions are looking to secure their future place in the workplace. One question we are often asked is how do unions form and become certified in Ontario.

The process of unionizing often begins with one employee. He or she will meet with a union business agent to discuss unionizing all or part of the workforce. From there, that employee and or union will ask the workforce to sign “cards”, signifying their desire for the union to represent them. Once 40% of the workers have signed the cards, the union can apply to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to hold a secret vote to see if the majority of the workers want to become unionized.

What is the process?

Step 1: Application

The Employer will receive a notice from the Union stating that it is applying to certify the workers in the workplace. It will also state when it believes the vote ought to take place. When the employer receives the Application, it must be posted immediately in a conspicuous place so that all employees can become aware of the union’s certification efforts.

Step 2: Response

The Employer is entitled to an opportunity to respond to the Application. There are strict timelines in place to keep this process moving. The Employer or its lawyer only has only two days to respond. If the employer does not respond, it will not be allowed to participate in the process.

Step 3: Vote

The vote is usually held within days after the date of the Application. Each eligible employee will be allowed one vote and asked whether he or she wishes for the union to become the exclusive bargaining agent for him or her at work. The vote is secret so as to prevent coercion or bullying by either party.

Step 4: Hearing

Sometimes the Board is unable to determine whether to certify all or part of the workforce. In these cases, it will hold a hearing where the parties can present evidence and make legal submissions. At the conclusion of this hearing, the union may be certified, the application may be dismissed or some employees may be excluded from the bargaining unit.

This blog post was written by Nigel McKechnie, a member of our Employment Law team.  Nigel can be reached at 613-369-0382 or at





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