Questions and Answers Regarding the Certification/Decertification Process

    THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS DOCUMENT IS CURRENTLY UNDER REVIEW AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED ON EXCEPT WITH CAUTION. Please contact the Board’s information officer at 604-660-1304 or for more information about the review process.

    This Guide answers questions which are often raised by employees with respect to applications for certification.

     The Labour Relations Code states that every employee is free to be a member of a trade union and to participate in its lawful activities.  The Code prohibits threats or intimidation which interfere with an employee's free choice about joining or not joining a trade union.  Suspensions, dismissals or other discipline are often found to be violations of the Code.

    Under the Labour Relations Code, employees are free to choose whether or not to become members of a trade union, to participate in its lawful activities, and to seek union certification of their workplace.  This pamphlet, produced by the Labour Relations Board, is designed to answer questions that employees often ask about the union certification process.


    1.      What is the Labour Relations Code?

    The Labour Relations Code is the provincial statute (law) which regulates relations between employers, unions and employees in British Columbia, whether or not they belong to a union.  The Code does not apply to federal employers such as airlines, some trucking companies and banks.  The Code contains provisions which govern the union certification process, collective bargaining, and other related matters.

    2.     What is the Labour Relations Board?

    The Labour Relations Board is a neutral, independent tribunal that decides matters involving unions, employers and employees under the Labour Relations Code.  One such matter the Board decides is whether to certify a union.

    3.     What does “certify” a union mean?

    When the Board certifies a union, it recognizes that union as the representative or bargaining agent of a group of employees.  Once the union is certified, the employer is required to bargain terms of employment with the union, rather than with individual employees.

    The group of employees which the union is certified to represent is called the bargaining unit.  For example, a union can be certified to represent "all employees of ABC Company" or "all employees of ABC Company, except sales staff".  Once certified, the union is required to represent all of the employees in the bargaining unit, whether or not they are members of the union.

    4.    What starts the union certification process?

    The process can begin in various ways.  Often, it begins with employees at a non-unionized workplace contacting a union and asking it to help the employees "organize" (unionize) their workplace.  Sometimes it is the union which initiates contact. 

     The union may hold information meetings, distribute leaflets or otherwise communicate with the employees to try to persuade the majority of employees to sign union membership cards.  The union and its representatives are not allowed to organize at an employer's place of business during working hours without the consent of the employer.  This prohibition does not apply when the employees are on lunch or other unpaid work breaks.

    5.    What does it mean to sign a union membership card?

    Signing a membership card means that you join the union and understand that the union is entitled to rely on your signed membership card as evidence of your desire to have the union certified to represent you and your co-workers. To be counted as support for a union's application for certification, a membership card must be signed and dated before midnight of the day that the union files its application with the Board

    6.    How many signed cards does the union need to be certified?
             Will a secret-ballot vote be held?

    The Labour Relations Code provides that if the union applies for certification with signed membership cards from 45% or more of the employees in the proposed bargaining unit, a secret ballot vote will be held within 5 business days.  The Union will be certified if the majority of the votes cast are in favour of union certification. 

    If a union applies for certification with membership cards from less than 45% of the employees, the application will be dismissed.

    7.    What about managers?

    Managers are not included in bargaining units and are therefore not counted when determining the total number of employees in the proposed bargaining unit. For the purposes of the Code, "managers" are generally people who have the power to hire, fire and discipline employees.

    8.    Are there special rules about signing a membership card?

    The membership card must be signed and dated at the time you sign the card, and the date should be clear.  For example, it is clearer to write the name of the month (e.g., April 3, 1999) rather than the number of the month (e.g., 04/03/99).  To be effective, cards must be signed and dated no more than 6 months before the date of the union's application for certification.  If the union has a union-local number, that union-local number must be filled in on the membership card before or at the time of signing.  Cards must be personally signed -- you cannot have another person sign your card for you.   Note that there are specific rules for membership evidence in the construction industry.

    9.    Can I be forced to sign or not sign a membership card?

    No.  The Labour Relations Code does not allow anyone to force a person to join or not join a trade union.  This applies to any person, including employers, unions and employees.

    10.   What if I sign a membership card but then change my mind?

    You have until the end of the day on which the union submits its application for certification to revoke (cancel) your membership card.  To revoke a membership card, you must deliver a signed, written letter of revocation to both the union and the Board that says you want to revoke or cancel your membership in the union.   The letter of revocation must be dated and must show the proper name of the union including the union local’s number.  Also include the name of your employer.  If you mail, courier or hand-deliver a revocation letter, it must be received before offices close on the day in question.  If you fax the revocation letter (the Board's fax number is (604) 660-1892), it must be received by the fax machine before midnight of that day.

    11.   Can I ask my employer questions about certification?

    You may, but your employer may not be free to answer all of your questions.  The decision as to whether a group of employees wish to be represented by a union is entirely the decision of those employees.  Therefore, your employer or manager may not be free to answer some or all of your questions.  If you do have questions about your rights, or about the Code, you may wish to contact the Board's Information Officer at (604) 660-1304 or

    12.   Can I lose my job for supporting or not supporting the union?

    No. An employer cannot dismiss or discipline an employee for supporting a union's efforts to organize the workplace, and a union cannot have an employee dismissed for refusing to support the union's organizing efforts.

    13.   Can my working conditions change during the union's organizing drive?

    No.  While an application for certification is pending, the Code imposes a "freeze" during which employers must continue "business as usual" and cannot change working conditions without the Board's written permission.  If the drive results in the union being certified, the Code imposes a further 12-month "freeze" during which working conditions cannot be altered unless a collective agreement is negotiated.

    14.   What does the union do with the signed membership cards?

    When it has collected enough signed membership cards, the union submits copies of the cards to the Board together with an Application for Certification form.  

    15.   Will my employer find out whether I signed a membership card?

    Employers are not entitled to know who did or did not sign a card.   The Board keeps the names of the employees who sign membership cards and the cards themselves strictly confidential.

    16.   What does the Board do when it receives an application for certification?

    Upon receiving an application for certification, the Board sends the employer a notice.  At the same time, the Board sets a pre-vote hearing, the date and time of which are listed on the notice which the employer must post in the workplace. 

    A Board Returning Officer confidentially examines the union’s membership cards and the employer's payroll information to determine the number of employees in the bargaining unit and what percentage has signed membership cards.  The Returning Officer will also arrange to conduct a secret ballot certification vote.

    17.   The Returning Officer has determined that a pre-vote hearing is necessary.  What will happen at the pre-vote hearing?

    A Vice-Chair of the Board will conduct the hearing and may address any issues related to the application.  The Vice-Chair may set a further expedited adjudicative process if necessary, including an in-person hearing, to address those issues.

    The Board will proceed with the hearing despite the absence of any affected person who has been given notice of the hearing.

    The Board also gives notice of the application to other unions that, according to the Board's records, have a collective bargaining relationship with your employer.

    18.   The vote has been ordered, but the Vice-Chair has set a further hearing.  What will happen at that hearing?

    The Vice-Chair will set a further adjudicative process to address issues such as whether the applicant union is a trade union within the meaning of the Code and whether the group of employees applied for is a unit appropriate for collective bargaining.  The Vice-Chair will also use that hearing to resolve any outstanding questions of threshold and to resolve challenged ballots.

    The ballots cast at the representation vote will not be counted until all of these issues are resolved.

    19.   What happens after certification?

    If the application for certification is successful, the Board will issue a formal certification order, which confirms that the union is the representative for every employee in the bargaining unit, whether or not they are members of the union.  Either the union or the employer may give the other notice to commence collective bargaining and the union and employer are then required to bargain in good faith with the objective of achieving a collective agreement.  A collective agreement is a written contract setting out wages, benefits and other conditions of employment.  For 12 months after certification, or until a collective agreement is achieved (whichever is sooner), the employer may not alter wages or conditions of work without the approval of the Board.

    20.   What if a group of employees wants to change unions?

    The Labour Relations Code gives employees the right to change unions during specific time periods.  This is commonly referred to as a "raid".  A union seeking to displace the existing union must present the Board with evidence (membership cards) to show that it has majority support among the employees in the bargaining unit.  A secret-ballot vote is normally ordered.  Normally, the collective agreement remains in effect regardless of which union wins the vote.

    21.   What if the employees no longer want to be unionized?

    A group of employees which no longer wishes to be represented by a union can apply to decertify the union.  Decertification means the union's bargaining rights and any collective agreement are canceled.  Decertification applications are available by phoning or writing the Board or on the Board's web site.   A decertification application cannot be filed until at least 10 months after the date of certification.  If at least 45% of the employees in the bargaining unit sign forms in support of decertification, a secret-ballot vote will be held.  Support may be revocable (cancelled).  For the decertification application to be successful, the majority of votes cast must be in favour of decertification.

    Employers cannot initiate or assist employees with "raid" or decertification applications.  The Board can refuse to count a vote if there is found to be an unfair labour practice or improper interference by the employer or another person.

    Employees seeking more information about the process can contact the Board's Information Officer. 

    22.   How can I get more information?

    You can contact the Board's Information Officer at (604) 660-1304 or with respect to any questions about the Labour Relations Code, Labour Relations Board procedures, your membership card, conduct of Board hearings, etc.

     The Board's web site also features the Code, as well as a plain-English Guide to the Code, and Board information on a variety of topics.  The web site address is

     This pamphlet is prepared by the Labour Relations Board.  It is not a legal document and does not contain legal advice.  It is subject to the law governing the union certification process, which is found in the Labour Relations Code and Regulation, the Labour Relations Board Rules, and the published decisions of the Labour Relations Board.

Effective; 02/22/94        
                                                                                        Revised; 10/2000        

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