Changing bargaining agents

There are a number of reasons why the trade union representing a group of employees can change. Sometimes the current union that represents the employees initiates the change. Other times, a different union organizes the employees and initiates the change by applying for certification.

The union is the exclusive bargaining agent. It represents employees by:

  • negotiating the collective agreement with the employer
  • managing the grievance process
  • running a hiring hall (in some industries)

By changing unions, employees are changing their exclusive bargaining agent. The old doesn't represent the employees in the bargaining unit anymore. The new union steps into the shoes of the old union and takes over representing the employees. This includes taking over any current grievances.

The existing collective agreement remains in effect after changing unions. The new union negotiates a new collective agreement with the employer to replace the existing one when it expires. However, if the existing collective agreement expires in two or more years, the new union can apply to the Labour Relations Board (the Board) for an order that the collective agreement expires.

if the Board grants the new union's application, the Board may:

  • declare that the existing collective agreement expires 90 days after the Board's order, or
  • make other orders or determinations it considers appropriate, such as directing the new union and employer to engage in bargaining for a new collective agreement. 

There are two restrictions on when an application to change bargaining agents can be filed. 

A union can't apply to replace another union:

  • within 22 months of an earlier application to replace the union, if the Board decided the application on its merits, or
  • during a strike or lockout, unless the Board consents. 

Even if neither of those circumstances apply, there is a specific window in the life of a collective agreement when a union can apply to replace an existing bargaining agent. When that window falls depends on the employer's industry.

In every industry except construction:

If the collective agreement is in force for:

  • Three years or less: The application can be made during the seventh and eighth months of the last year of the collective agreement
  • More than three years:  The application can be made during the seventh and eighth months of the third year of the agreement and in the seventh and eighth months in the following years of the collective agreement or any continuation of it

In the construction industry:

The application can be made in July and August of each year of the collective agreement or any continuation of it.

Applying to replace an existing union involves the same process as the certification process. The only difference is the union must have higher employee support. At least 50%+1 of employees must support changing unions by signing union membership cards. 


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This page was last updated: 2022-06-03

Disclaimer: The information on this website is provided for general purposes only and is not legal advice. This information is subject to the Labour Relations Code, the Labour Relations Board Rules, the Labour Relations Regulation and the published decisions of the Board

The Labour Relations Board acknowledges the traditional territories of the many diverse Indigenous Peoples in the geographic area we serve. With gratitude and respect, we acknowledge that the Board’s office is located on the traditional unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səlil̓wətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.