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Organizing in Canada

Forming the Inside Organizing Committee

Every successful organizing drive involves an effective organizing committee comprised of the people seeking union representation. This internal group of union supporters helps to educate us about the specific concerns at the studio, as well as any apprehensions there are about moving forward. The committee will be the conduit between the entire crew and us. It is important that the committee represent a good cross-section of the group. It is best when each job classification and department have at least one representative.


IATSE representatives will make every effort to ensure that you and your co-workers completely understand the organizing process so that you can make fully informed decisions at every step. At the same time, you will educate us about your employer’s operation so that we can identify as clearly as possible the number of people in the group and what specific concerns must be addressed.

The Campaign

Organizing campaigns are made up of meetings and conversations with your colleagues in order to achieve enough support for unionization to move to the next step (Filing an Application for Certification). The measure of sufficient support is through the collection of Representation Cards. Organizing campaigns vary in length. Some take months, some take years. The IATSE will remain committed to seeing the process through as long as the group does.

Once an employer knows that an organizing campaign is in place, a counter campaign should be expected. Employer “anti-union” campaigns try to dissuade you from considering unionization by varying methods. With an effective organizing committee and good communication channels, we will be able to quickly refute any misinformation that the employer uses to undermine your support. It is important to anticipate what your employer may do when they find out you are organizing, so that together we can respond quickly and effectively.

What an Employer May Not Do

Under Canadian law, employers are prohibited from interfering with your right to select a union as your collective bargaining representative. Below is a list of some of the things that employers are NOT permitted to do, by law:

  1. They cannot promise any benefits to employees to stay out of the union.
  2. They cannot threaten the loss of jobs, income, benefits, or any other compensation you are now receiving if you do support the union.
  3. They cannot threaten to fire you, or fire you, because you support the union.
  4. They cannot attend union meetings.
  5. They cannot treat you differently because they think you are supporting the union.
  6. They cannot transfer you because you are involved with the union.
  7. They cannot take work away from you because you are supporting the union.
  8. They cannot ask you about your opinion of the union.
  9. They cannot ask you whether you are supporting the union.
  10. They cannot ask you how you would vote on union representation.
  11. They cannot ask you at the time you are hired whether or not you belong to a union.
  12. They cannot help you withdraw from union membership.
  13. They cannot tell you there will be a strike.
  14. They cannot tell you they will not deal with the union.

There are many types of employer conduct that are improper, and it would be impossible to list them all, however, while an employer is permitted to express its preference not to be unionized and to communicate facts and opinions to the workers, the employer may not use its dominant position to make overt or subtle threats or promises in regard to conditions of employment or of job security. This includes threats of adverse consequences for unionizing or discharging union supporters (such as suspending or disciplining people), but may also include the granting of benefits, raises, or solicitation of grievances - in hopes that the group will decide to keep the union out.  

Representation Cards

Once the organizing committee is formed and functioning and discussions with the group have started, we ask that everyone who would be affected by the contract 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 a representation card. In fact, it is illegal for them to ask you if you have.

If a significant majority of the workers sign representation 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 vote 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 needed is 50% + one.

Automatic Certification

Some provinces offer other alternatives as a means for employees to become unionized. In New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec, 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)

Prince Edward Island

50% + 1 (but strive for 60% so no question of majority support, Board retains discretion to call a vote if it believes necessary))


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

Before the provincial labour board can hold a vote, several elements of the vote will need to be decided. Some of those include what the composition of the bargaining unit is, (what job classifications are covered, who is eligible to vote, sometimes votes involve part-time workers, full-time workers or a combination) and the place and time for the vote (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 aspect of the application, the board may seal the ballot box until it can conduct a hearing and make a ruling.

The Voting Place

With respect to location, votes are usually held at the workplace, if that is practical. Sometimes they take place in the labour board office, or sometimes at a convenient local venue. Votes should be conducted so that employees have the opportunity to vote during regular working hours. However, generally not more than one hour will be allocated for every 60 eligible voters.

Although laws vary province to province, in general, each party is to select a contact person for the period prior to the vote, a scrutineer for each polling place, and a representative to act as its agent at the counting of the ballots. Scrutineers check the voters' list at the polling place, assist in identification of voters and otherwise assist in the conduct of the vote. The scrutineer has the right to challenge prospective voters on the grounds of identity or where their right to vote appears to be doubtful. Therefore, a scrutineer should be someone who is familiar with the personnel. The representative acting for the party at the counting should have the authority to withdraw any of the party's challenges to voter eligibility, consent to allowing irregularly marked ballots and generally act for the party they represent.

Rights of Employees

You are entitled, by law, to vote your free choice in a fair, honest, secret-ballot vote to determine whether a majority of your fellow employees want union representation. When a vote is held, the labour board protects your right to vote freely under the law. Improper conduct will not be permitted. All parties must cooperate fully with the labour board in maintaining the basic principles of a fair vote as expressed by law. 


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 representatives. 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.