Effect of certification

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

Collective bargaining

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.

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 to file a grievance,
  • whether to pursue a grievance to arbitration,
  • whether to settle a grievance at any stage in the process, or
  • whether to withdraw a grievance.

Hiring halls

In some unions, such as those in the construction and film industries, 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
  • until 12 months after the date of certification

whichever comes first.

An employer can lay off, discipline, or dismiss an employee during this freeze period if it has proper cause to do so. However, if the discipline or dismissal is motivated in any way by anti-union feelings, then it might not matter whether the employer has proper cause. Acting on anti-union motivation will generally amount to an unfair labour practice, even if the action itself might otherwise be permissible.

During this freeze period, an employer also has the right to make a change in its operations that is reasonably necessary for the proper conduct of its business (business as usual).

Employer’s obligations

When a union is certified to represent its employees, an employer can’t refuse to 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.


This page was last updated: 2021-08-16

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.