Employment & Labour

Employers – choose words carefully when it comes to union talk

Employers would be wise not to threaten or intimidate employees who express the desire to organize and start a union, advises employment lawyer Arthur Zeilikman.

“Essentially, the system is created with the intention to protect workers’ rights to unionize,” Zeilikman tells AdvocateDaily.com. “If an employer wants to convince an employee not to start a union, they have to do it very carefully. The objective has to be factual and not based on speculation, for example.”

Zeilikman, of Zeilikman Law, says employers can certainly speak up when employees raise the idea of unionizing, but they must choose their words carefully.

“It’s very important not to intimidate or threaten,” he says. “They definitely cannot say things like, ‘You may lose your job.’ Employees, for the most part, are entitled to organize.”

Each province is governed by its own rules related to unions, with Ontario’s Labour Relations Act being the law in this province for most employees, says Zeilikman. The certification and decertification of a union as an exclusive bargaining agent in most provincial workplaces in Ontario are the responsibility of the Labour Relations Board, he adds.

“There are various requirements under the act before a union can be certified,” he says.

Zeilikman further adds, “unions now exist as their own 'professional' entities but employees can organize from the grassroots level as well.”

In general, unions are formed when employees come together with workplace rights and interests in mind, says Zeilikman, noting workers in these situations aren’t always disgruntled, which is a common perception.

While the rules are applicable across the board, Zeilikman says they may not make sense in all circumstances.

“Practically speaking, with smaller employers, for example, there is usually little unionizing,” he says. “Usually larger employers are where you see most unions. You also see many unions in the construction industry."

Managerial employees, he says, are not usually permitted to organize as they cannot be both in a union and perceived to be part of employer’s inner circle. Nor can you have employees who are employed in a conficential capacity in matters relating to labour relations.

For workers looking to form a union, seeking legal advice is smart first step, says Zeilikman.

“It can become a very complicated process and you should do it right the first time,” he says. “For instance, if an employer is acting in an intimidating or threatening manner, that’s illegal.”

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