How to apply for union certification

A union that wants to represent an employee or a group of employees can apply for certification under the Labour Relations Code (the Code).

A certification is a formal record issued by the Labour Relations Board that confirms the union is the exclusive bargaining agent for the employee(s). Usually a certification is granted by the Board because a majority of the employees voted in favour of being represented by that union in their workplace.

The group of employees represented by the union is called the bargaining unit and, once certified, the union becomes their exclusive bargaining agent.

Can any organization apply for certification?

No. Only a trade union as defined in the Code can apply for certification. There are many organizations the Board has already recognized as a trade union under the Code.

If the Board hasn’t already recognized an organization as a trade union, it should be prepared to address how the organization meets the definition of trade union in the Code.

What do I need to include in an application for certification?

You can file an application with the Board by using the Board’s online application process. Make sure the application is complete and correct, including contact information for the union and the employer. If the application isn't complete, it could be delayed because the Board won’t accept an application for filing until it is complete. As part of the online application process, submit copies of union membership evidence in a single .pdf format. Membership evidence must be in colour.

Pay close attention on how to file membership evidence. Otherwise, your certification application may be delayed or not accepted for filing.  You may be required to provide the original cards for inspection, so keep them in a safe place and easily available.

 Don’t send a copy of the form or membership evidence to the employer. The Board will notify the employer once the application is accepted. The Board will keep the membership information confidential.

You need to describe the group of employees you want to represent. For example, is it all the employees of the employer? Is it only employees in a department? Is it employees in more than one location?

It's important to describe the proposed bargaining unit you're applying for in a way that makes it sufficiently clear for the Board to know which employees are covered by the application.

You need to have an idea of how many employees are in the proposed bargaining unit and whether or not a union already represents them. 

Where the union is applying to be certified to represent a group of employees that isn’t already represented by another union, then the union must show that it has the support of at least 45% of the employees in the proposed bargaining unit.

Where the union is applying to certify a group of employees already represented by another union:

  • the union must show that it has the support of the majority (50% + 1) of the employees in the bargaining unit.
  • if the bargaining unit the union is applying for is larger than the group of employees already represented by another union, the union applying must show that it has the support of at least 45% of the employees in the proposed bargaining unit.

The percentage of employees in the bargaining unit who must sign union membership cards is called threshold. You need to meet this number for a vote to proceed.

If you haven’t already been formally recognized by the Board as a trade union, you need to include information that sets out how the union was founded.  

Two or more trade unions can apply to represent a single bargaining unit. The trade unions making a joint application are treated as if they are a single union.

A joint application must include a constitution. The constitution must govern the structure and relationship of the applicant unions. It must be approved by the Board during the certification process.

 Labour Relations Code, Section 20 - Joint application

If the application relates to employees belonging to a craft, the certification provisions under the Code still apply. However, you should review the Board’s requirements for bargaining unit descriptions set out in CLRA, BCLRB No. B381/95 (37 KB).

 Labour Relations Code, Section 21 - Craft unions

If the Board decides that the union has threshold support, it will order a vote. A vote can be done in-person, electronically, or by mail.

The vote gives all the employees in the proposed bargaining unit the chance to cast a ballot saying whether or not they want to have the union represent them.

An employer is required to provide the Board with employee information, including their name, email addresses, mailing address, phone number, position title, or work location in order to conduct the vote. 

 It is not a breach of employee privacy for the employer to provide this  information to the Board.

If a majority of the employees vote yes, and the Board decides the bargaining unit is appropriate for collective bargaining, the union will be certified as the exclusive bargaining agent of the employees in the bargaining unit.

Unions must include evidence of membership when making an application to be certified to represent a group of employees. The group of employees a union applies to represent is called a proposed bargaining unit.

The bargaining unit refers to the group of employees represented by a union, or the employees the union is proposing to represent when it applies for certification.

Only an employee can be included in a bargaining unit and have access to collective bargaining.

To be certified to represent employees under the Labour Relations Code, an organization must meet the definition of "trade union."


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This page was last updated: 2021-05-20

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.