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How to Organize

Getting Started

The IATSE believes that the best organizers are workers themselves. At every step of the organizing process, we emphasize the active participation of the workers seeking union representation. This is essential not only to winning an election, but more importantly, to getting the contract you deserve. The first step is to talk to your co-workers. Do you share common concerns about your jobs? Is your employer unwilling to discuss or rectify your concerns? If so, you will want to gauge the interest of your co-workers in exploring organizing as a means to addressing your problems. If there is interest, we will send a representative to meet with as many workers as are willing to talk with us.

Forming the Inside Organizing Committee

Every successful organizing drive involves an effective organizing committee comprised of workers seeking union representation. The organizing committee helps to educate the IATSE Representative about the concerns that initiated your interest as well as whatever apprehensions there are about moving forward. The committee will also disseminate information, provided by the union organizer, to the group. This back-and-forth communication is a constant part of the organizing process. It is important that the committee represent a cross-section of the workers; each job classification and location should have at least one representative.


Workers are entitled to know how the organizing process works and what to expect during the campaign.  It is only when everyone understands the commitment involved in successful organizing that we can be confident of their support. Our Representatives are fully versed in the laws governing organizing on both the provincial and federal levels. We will make every effort to ensure that you and your co-workers completely understand the process so that you can make a fully informed decision about moving forward. At the same time, you will educate the IATSE Representative about your employer’s operation so that we can identify as clearly as possible which positions, and how many workers, are in the bargaining unit we’re trying to organize.

Representation Cards

Once the organizing committee is formed and functioning and the bargaining unit is identified we request that all workers sign Representation Cards as an indication of their support for the union. Representation Cards are completely confidential. Your employer will never know whether you have signed one or not. In fact, it is illegal for them to ask you if you have. If a significant majority of the workers in the bargaining unit sign authorization cards we will file an application for certification with the labour board in your province. This application will likely result in the board conducting a secret ballot to determine whether a majority of the workers want  to be represented by the union. In all provinces where a vote is required, the winning percentage is 50% + one.

Automatic Certification

Some provinces offer other alternatives as a means for employees to become unionized. In Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and the three territories, workers simply sign representation cards and once a certain majority percentage is reached, the workplace is automatically certified and a vote is unnecessary. Those percentages are as follows:





New Brunswick

50% + 1 (but Board can order a vote for 40%-60% support, so min. 60% suggested)

Newfoundland & Labrador


Prince Edward Island

50% + 1 (but strive for 60% so no question of majority support)


50% + 1

All territories

50% + 1

In all provinces but Quebec, it is sometimes possible to request that the employer voluntarily recognize the union. If the employer voluntarily agrees, then the voting process is not necessary and the union becomes the bargaining agent for the workers.

The Vote

When we have collected a majority of the cards, we file them with the relevant provincial labour board. The union and the employer need to agree on several elements of the election. What the composition of the bargaining unit is – that is, what job classifications are covered. Who is eligible to vote – sometimes elections involve part-time workers, full-time workers or a combination. We also need to agree on the place and time for the election. It usually occurs at the workplace but can be conducted on neutral, third party ground, such as the offices of the labour board itself. If either party challenges any area - such as who is to be in the bargaining unit - the board may seal the ballot box until it can conduct a hearing and make a ruling.


Once the union wins the vote, the employer is legally bound to negotiate in good faith for a collective agreement for the employees. We will form a Bargaining Committee, which will usually be comprised of members of the Inside Organizing Committee and the IATSE Representative. In addition to IATSE Representatives, the union also has lawyers who can be brought in to assist in negotiations, if that seems the best course of action.

The Bargaining Committee will draft a contract proposal to submit to the employer at the start of negotiations. The Bargaining Committee will attend all negotiation sessions with the employer. They will advise the IATSE Representative how the bargaining unit (that's what the entire group of workers is now called) would like them to respond to employer proposals and what modifications of the union’s proposal are acceptable. The Bargaining Committee will determine when there is a tentative agreement that can be submitted to the entire bargaining unit for a ratification vote.


Once a contract has been ratified and signed by both the union and the employer, all employees covered by the agreement will be able to join the union as full members with all the rights and responsibilities of other members.