How to form a union

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No matter where you live in Canada, you have the legal right to join a union.

The specific process for joining a union depends on where you live and whether you fall under the provincial or federal labour code.

Regardless of which law applies to your workplace, the basic steps of forming a union are similar.

Step 1: Contact CUPW to work with an organizing expert.

Step 2: Workers sign CUPW membership cards.

Step 3: The cards are submitted to the provincial or federal labour board with the union's application for certification. Membership cards are kept strictly confidential.

Step 4: Depending on the labour board, the union is recognized based on a count of the membership cards or through a secret ballot vote by employees.

Step 5: Workers can begin to negotiate a first contract.

Federal sector workplaces and those in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon are covered by the Canada Labour Code. All other workplaces fall under provincial labour law. If you are not sure which laws apply to your workplace, see below for a list of the types of workplaces covered by Canada Labour Code.

  • banks;
  • marine shipping, ferry and port services;
  • air transportation, including airports, aerodromes and airlines;
  • railway and road transportation that involves crossing provincial or international borders;
  • canals, pipelines, tunnels and bridges (crossing provincial borders);
  • telephone, telegraph and cable systems;
  • radio and television broadcasting;
  • grain elevators, feed and seed mills;
  • uranium mining and processing;
  • businesses dealing with the protection of fisheries as a natural resource;
  • many First Nation activities;
  • most federal Crown corporations;
  • private businesses necessary to the operation of a federal act;

To find out more details on the steps taken to unionize a workplace, click on one of the headings below.

Step 1: Contact CUPW to speak with an organizing expert

CUPW organizers are ready to support you in organizing a union. Get in touch to find out more.

Step 2: Workers sign CUPW membership cards

With the help of a union organizer, you and your co-workers sign CUPW membership cards or a petition.

Step 3: The cards are submitted to the labour board

When at least 50% of the workers have signed a union card, CUPW can apply to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board for certification of the union. The cards remain strictly confidential.

OR Vote for CUPW

CUPW can apply to the labour board to hold a vote if at least 35% of workers sign membership cards. The Labour Board will then conduct a secret ballot vote in your workplace or by mail and/or ballot box for a regional or national group of workers. If the majority of workers vote in favour of the union, the labour board can certify the union.

Step 4: Workers can begin to negotiate a first contract.

CUPW representatives with workers from your bargaining unit meet your employer to negotiate a collective agreement. This agreement sets out your wages, benefits, working conditions, job security and other rights. You have the right to vote on any contract that's negotiated. Contact us to learn more.

Step 1: Contact CUPW to speak with an organizing expert

CUPW organizers are ready to support you in organizing a union. Get in touch to find out more.

Step 2: Workers sign CUPW membership cards

With the help of a union organizer, you and your co-workers sign CUPW membership cards or a petition. The signatures on the cards or the petition cannot be older than 90 days.

Step 3: The cards are submitted to the labour board

When at least 40% of the workers have signed a union card or a petition, CUPW can apply to the Alberta Labour Relations Board for certification of the union. The Labour Board will likely hold a hearing within 10 days of the union's application to make sure 40% of the workers have signed either a union card or a petition. The cards or the petition remain strictly confidential

Step 4: Vote for CUPW

Two weeks after CUPW has applied to the Alberta Labour Relations Board for certification, the board can conduct a secret ballot vote of all the workers to see if a majority want to join the union.

Step 5: Workers can begin to negotiate a first contract.

CUPW representatives with workers from your bargaining unit meet your employer to negotiate a collective agreement. This agreement sets out your wages, benefits, working conditions, job security and other rights. You have the right to vote on any contract that's negotiated. Contact us to learn more.

Step 1: Contact CUPW to speak with an organizing expert

CUPW organizers are ready to support you in organizing a union. Get in touch to find out more.

Step 2: Workers sign CUPW membership cards

With the help of a union organizer, you and your co-workers sign CUPW membership cards or a petition.

Step 3: The cards are submitted to the labour board

When at least 45% of the workers have signed a union card, CUPW can apply to the British Colombia Labour Relations Board for certification of the union. The cards remain strictly confidential.

Step 4: Vote for CUPW

Ten days after CUPW has applied to the B.C. Labour Relations Board for certification, the board can hold a secret ballot vote of all the workers to see if a majority want to join the union. If less than 55% of the employees participate in the vote, the labour board can order another one.

Step 5: Workers can begin to negotiate a first contract.

CUPW representatives with workers from your bargaining unit meet your employer to negotiate a collective agreement. This agreement sets out your wages, benefits, working conditions, job security and other rights. You have the right to vote on any contract that's negotiated. Contact us to learn more.

Step 1: Contact CUPW to speak with an organizing expert

CUPW organizers are ready to support you in organizing a union. Get in touch to find out more.

Step 2: Workers sign CUPW membership cards

With the help of a union organizer, you and your co-workers sign CUPW membership cards.

Step 3: The cards are submitted to the labour board

If 65% of the workers sign a CUPW membership card, the Manitoba Labour Board can automatically certify the union.

OR Vote for CUPW

CUPW can apply to the labour board to hold a vote if at least 40% of workers sign membership cards. The Labour Board will then conduct a secret ballot vote in your workplace one week after the application. If the majority of workers vote in favour of the union, the labour board can certify the union.

Step 4: Workers can begin to negotiate a first contract.

CUPW representatives with workers from your bargaining unit meet your employer to negotiate a collective agreement. This agreement sets out your wages, benefits, working conditions, job security and other rights. You have the right to vote on any contract that's negotiated. Contact us to learn more.

Step 1: Contact CUPW to speak with an organizing expert

CUPW organizers are ready to support you in organizing a union. Get in touch to find out more.

Step 2: Workers sign CUPW membership cards

With the help of a union organizer, you and your co-workers sign CUPW membership cards or a petition.

Step 3: The cards are submitted to the labour board

When at least 60% of the workers have signed a union card, CUPW can apply to the New Brunswick Labour Relations and Employment Board for certification of the union. The cards remain strictly confidential.

OR Vote for CUPW

CUPW can apply to the labour board to hold a vote if at least 40% of workers sign membership cards. The Labour Board will then conduct a secret ballot vote in your workplace. If the majority of workers vote in favour of the union, the labour board can certify the union.

Step 4: Workers can begin to negotiate a first contract.

CUPW representatives with workers from your bargaining unit meet your employer to negotiate a collective agreement. This agreement sets out your wages, benefits, working conditions, job security and other rights. You have the right to vote on any contract that's negotiated. Contact us to learn more.

Step 1: Contact CUPW to speak with an organizing expert

CUPW organizers are ready to support you in organizing a union. Get in touch to find out more.

Step 2: Workers sign CUPW membership cards

With the help of a union organizer, you and your co-workers sign CUPW membership cards.

Step 3: The cards are submitted to the labour board

When a majority of the workers have signed a union card, CUPW can apply to the Labour Relations Board for a vote. The cards remain strictly confidential.

Step 4: Vote for CUPW

The labour board holds a secret ballot vote five days after the application. If a majority of workers want to join the union, the board can certify CUPW as your union.

Step 5: Workers can begin to negotiate a first contract.

CUPW representatives with workers from your bargaining unit meet your employer to negotiate a collective agreement. This agreement sets out your wages, benefits, working conditions, job security and other rights. You have the right to vote on any contract that's negotiated. Contact us to learn more.

Step 1: Contact CUPW to speak with an organizing expert

CUPW organizers are ready to support you in organizing a union. Get in touch to find out more.

Step 2: Workers sign CUPW membership cards

With the help of a union organizer, you and your co-workers sign CUPW membership cards or a petition.

Step 3: The cards are submitted to the labour board

When at least 40% of the workers have signed a union card, CUPW can apply to the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board for a vote. The membership cards remain strictly confidential.

Step 4: Vote for CUPW

The Labour Relations Board holds a secret ballot vote in your workplace. This generally occurs five days after the union's application. If a majority of workers want to join the union, the labour board can certify CUPW as your union

Step 5: Workers can begin to negotiate a first contract.

CUPW representatives with workers from your bargaining unit meet your employer to negotiate a collective agreement. This agreement sets out your wages, benefits, working conditions, job security and other rights. You have the right to vote on any contract that's negotiated. Contact us to learn more.

Step 1: Contact CUPW to speak with an organizing expert

CUPW organizers are ready to support you in organizing a union. Get in touch to find out more.

Step 2: Workers sign CUPW membership cards

With the help of a union organizer, you and your co-workers sign CUPW membership cards.

Step 3: The cards are submitted to the labour board

When at least 40% of the workers have signed a union card, CUPW can apply to the Ontario Labour Relations Board for a vote. The membership cards remain strictly confidential.

Step 4: Vote for CUPW

The Labour Relations Board holds a secret ballot vote in your workplace about one week after the application. If a majority of workers want to join the union, the labour board can certify CUPW as your union.

Step 5: Workers can begin to negotiate a first contract.

CUPW representatives with workers from your bargaining unit meet your employer to negotiate a collective agreement. This agreement sets out your wages, benefits, working conditions, job security and other rights. You have the right to vote on any contract that's negotiated. Contact us to learn more.

Step 1: Contact CUPW to speak with an organizing expert

CUPW organizers are ready to support you in organizing a union. Get in touch to find out more.

Step 2: Workers sign CUPW membership cards

With the help of a union organizer, you and your co-workers sign CUPW membership cards.

Step 3: The cards are submitted to the labour board

When 55% of the workers have signed a union card, CUPW can apply to the Prince Edward Island Labour Relations and Employment Board for automatic certification of the union. The cards remain strictly confidential.

OR Vote for CUPW

If at least 50%+1 of the workers sign a union card, the Labour Board will most likely hold a secret ballot vote. If the majority of workers vote in favour of the union, the labour board can certify the union.

Step 4: Workers can begin to negotiate a first contract CUPW representatives with workers from your bargaining unit meet your employer to negotiate a collective agreement. This agreement sets out your wages, benefits, working conditions, job security and other rights. You have the right to vote on any contract that's negotiated. Contact us to learn more.
Step 1: Contact CUPW to speak with an organizing expert

CUPW organizers are ready to support you in organizing a union. Get in touch to find out more.

Step 2: Workers sign CUPW membership cards

With the help of a union organizer, you and your co-workers sign CUPW membership cards.

Step 3: The cards are submitted to the labour board

If over 50% of workers sign a CUPW membership card, the Quebec Labour Relations Commission can automatically certify the union.

OR Vote for CUPW

CUPW can apply to the labour board to hold a vote if at least 35% of workers sign membership cards. The Labour Commission will then conduct a secret ballot vote in your workplace about a week after the application. If the majority of workers vote in favour of the union, the Labour Commission can certify the union.

Step 4: Workers can begin to negotiate a first contract.

CUPW representatives with workers from your bargaining unit meet your employer to negotiate a collective agreement. This agreement sets out your wages, benefits, working conditions, job security and other rights. You have the right to vote on any contract that's negotiated. Contact us to learn more.

Step 1: Contact CUPW to speak with an organizing expert

CUPW organizers are ready to support you in organizing a union. Get in touch to find out more.

Step 2: Workers sign CUPW membership cards

With the help of a union organizer, you and your co-workers sign CUPW membership cards.

Step 3: The cards are submitted to the labour board

When at least 45% of the workers have signed a union card, CUPW can apply to the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board for a vote. The membership cards remain strictly confidential.

Step 4: Vote for CUPW

The Labour Relations Board holds a secret ballot vote in your workplace. If a majority of workers want to join the union, the labour board can certify CUPW as your union.

Step 5: Workers can begin to negotiate a first contract.

CUPW representatives with workers from your bargaining unit meet your employer to negotiate a collective agreement. This agreement sets out your wages, benefits, working conditions, job security and other rights. You have the right to vote on any contract that's negotiated. Contact us to learn more.