Having a union changes the relationship between employees and their employer. Once the union is certified to represent a group of the employer’s employees, it becomes the exclusive bargaining agent for those employees. That group of employees is often referred to as the bargaining unit.
The union's exclusive bargaining agency
Once the union is certified to represent a group of the employer’s employees, only the union has the authority to negotiate with the employer and agree to the terms and conditions of employment that will be set out in a collective agreement.
After a collective agreement is reached through collective bargaining, the union, not the individual employees, has the authority to make decisions about how it interprets, applies, or enforces the collective agreement.
If an employee has a problem or dispute at work related to their terms and conditions of employment they must talk to their union. However, being the exclusive bargaining agent means the union has the right to decide whether it:
- files a grievance,
- pursues a grievance to arbitration,
- settles a grievance at any stage in the process, or
- withdraws a grievance.
In some unions, such as those in the construction and film industry, the union may establish a process for referring employees to jobs with employers through a union administered hiring hall.
Terms and conditions of employment
Once the union is certified, there is a freeze on the terms and conditions of employment (e.g. pay, benefits, leaves of absence and working conditions) for employees in the bargaining unit. This means the employer isn’t allowed to unilaterally change the terms and conditions of employment until:
- a collective agreement is agreed to and in force, or
- 12 months after the date of certification
whichever comes first.
When a union is certified to represent its employees, an employer must recognize the union as the exclusive bargaining agent of the employees in the bargaining unit.
The employer must negotiate terms and conditions of employment in good faith with the union. This process of negotiations is called collective bargaining. Once a union is certified the employer can’t refuse to agree in a first collective agreement that all bargaining unit employees must pay dues to the union.
The only exception to the requirement to pay union dues is if the Board has granted the employee a religious exemption.
Learn more about the certification process and how to get bargaining rights in the workplace.
Sometimes the bargaining relationship can change. Learn more about what happens if the employer changes, the union changes, or employees want to change their union representation.
Employees may decide they don’t want to have union representation anymore. The bargaining relationship may have been abandoned by the union or employer. Learn more about ending the bargaining relationship.