What is a “collective agreement”?
A collective agreement is an agreement between a union and an employer that deals with terms and conditions of employment of all workers covered by the collective agreement. In Alberta, a collective agreement must be in writing and it is legally binding upon the employer, the union, and the employees that the agreement covers. This means that legal action can be taken against anyone who breaks a term of the collective agreement.
What is “collective bargaining”?
Collective bargaining is the process of negotiating terms and conditions of work between an employer and a union. A union negotiates on behalf of the union members. The agreement reached between an employer and a union is called a collective agreement.
Historically, there is a distinction between voluntary collective bargaining and collective bargaining imposed by law. England had a well-developed system of voluntary collective bargaining in the early to mid-twentieth century. This meant that employers generally negotiated with unions on a voluntary basis. By contrast, in Canada, the law has largely imposed collective bargaining, in part due to the efforts of unions to have it formally enshrined in law. Not until the law imposed a duty upon employers to recognize a union representing a majority of its employees, and enforced a duty to bargain with the union in good faith, did collective bargaining become entrenched in industrial relations in Canada.
What does a “combination of people” mean?
A combination of people is a term that was used in nineteenth-century England to describe a group of people that joined together for a common purpose. A trade union was a combination of people who joined together for the common purpose of lowering hours of work and/or raising wages.
What does the “delay of the work stoppage” mean?
Delay of the work stoppage is a key feature of Canadian labour law. It means that before a strike or lockout can occur certain procedural steps have to be taken, for example, a strike vote amongst employees and notice of the strike given to the employer.
What is a “strike action”?
A strike action, also known as a “job action” or “industrial action, is an umbrella term including:
- picketing and secondary picketing;
- working to rule;
- striking; and
- a lockout.
Any strike or lockout taking place before the required steps are taken is unlawful. The intention is to give both sides a cooling off period and to try to avoid the industrial action.
Why is industrial action (for example, striking, picketing, working to rule) so important to union activity?
Unions evolved as a way for workers to join together to face the power that an employer has as the owner or operator of a business. The inequality of bargaining power between a worker and employer can be evened up in this way. As long as an employer is dealing with one employee, the balance of power is with the employer. When the employer is dealing with an organization that represents all employees, there is less power imbalance.
One of the few threats available to a worker in a disagreement with an employer is the withdrawal of labour, known as a strike. The threat or reality of a withdrawal of labour is greater if the whole workforce is involved rather than one person.
The timing of strike action is just as crucial as the fact of a strike itself. A union could plan to take strike action at a point when it would be crucial for an employer to have the business running. Strike action is arguably most effective if it happens when an employer has no contingency plans in place. If a requirement of delaying strike action is introduced, a union might be seen to have lost a valuable advantage.
What is an “injunction”?
An injunction is a court order that directs someone to stop doing something pending the outcome of a legal case. If an employer begins a civil action against a union for inducing breach of contract, he or she could immediately ask the court for an injunction ordering the union stop the industrial action until the case is decided.
Historically, an injunction was a legal tool to preserve a situation until a case was finally decided, but in the case of an industrial action, it sometimes had the effect of destroying the reason for the case. Even today, once a union cannot take immediate industrial action, the impetus for the dispute is diminished, the dispute is often lost, and there is no reason to go to court. Union leaders face a difficult decision: whether to disregard the injunction and face personal and union liability for contempt of court, or to abide by the order and potentially give ground in the dispute.
What is a “lockout”?
Most commonly, a lockout is defined as an industrial action where an employer locks workers out of their workplace and will not let them in. The definition can also include the suspension of work by an employer or the suspension of employees in order to make them accept certain terms and conditions of work. In Alberta, a lockout can only take place in accordance with certain rules and cannot occur while a collective agreement is in force.
What does the term “picketing” cover?
Picketing in the field of labour relations refers to the action of persuading others not to do any business with a particular employer. Most commonly, picketers are seen outside a business where the workers are on strike. They try to persuade others not to cross the picket line to do business with the employer or work for the employer.
Secondary picketing occurs when workers picket at a location away from the business place of the employer involved in the dispute. Businesses which have relationships with the employer in a dispute are often the targets of secondary picketing. For example, picketers might go to the business place of a supplier of the employer to persuade the supplier not to make deliveries to the employer.
What does the term “strike” mean?
Strike refers to the action of withdrawal of labour by workers. Employees stay away from work during a strike. In Alberta today, the law distinguishes between a legal and an illegal strike. To be legal, a strike must take place in accordance with certain rules with regard to a vote of the union membership, and a strike cannot occur during the life of a collective agreement.
What is “work to rule”?
Work to rule campaigns are a form of industrial action in which employees only perform their minimum job requirements under the rules of their employment contracts. During a work to rule action, employees follow workplace and job safety regulations to an exacting degree in order to slow the pace of work. No extra tasks, such as overtime, are performed.
What does “union recognition” mean?
Union recognition means that an employer acknowledges a particular union as the bargaining agent for some or all of the employees at his or her workplace. Once the union is recognized, the employer will bargain collectively with that union. When a majority of employees at a workplace indicates that it wishes to be represented by a particular union, the law now requires that the employer recognize the union. Before the law set out the process for union recognition, an employer was free to disregard the union, even if most employees belonged to it.
Types of Unions
What is a “craft union”?
A craft union was the term traditionally given to unions that represented members who specialized in a particular occupation. Crafts included printing, shoemaking, carpenters, painters, bakers, bookbinders, upholsterers, bricklayers, and stonecutters. In many respects, unions representing such craft industries were similar to the craft guilds that existed in medieval Europe.
What is an “international union”?
An international union is one that crosses national borders in the same way that an international company might. Due to proximity to the United States, Canada plays host to various international unions.
Who were the Knights of Labour?
The Knights of Labour, formed in Philadelphia in 1869, were one of the first international unions to operate in Canada. The union organized members in Canada in the 1880s. The Knights organized unskilled labour as well as those belonging to particular trades and crafts. The union was also successful at organizing on a factory basis.
The Knights ultimately failed in the United States. Not only were there divisions between the craft unions and parent umbrella organizations, but the 1886 Chicago Haymarket Riot caused public outrage against the Knights. As a result, and because the leadership of the Knights did not always support its members, its membership dropped dramatically in the following years. The American Federation of Labour developed in its stead.
In Canada, the Knights had given some workers their first opportunity to belong to a union. The Knights were very popular in Quebec and eventually combined with craft unions to establish the Trades and Labour Congress.
What is an “industrial union”?
The term “industrial union” characterizes a type of union that crosses craft and occupational boundaries within an industry. For example, instead of workers in a factory belonging to different unions based on their skill, craft, or occupation, everyone in the factory belongs to the same union. This kind of organization gives the members the power of unity rather than being fragmented into different groups. Mining and the textile industries were particularly open to organization by industrial unions.
Examples of early industrial unions were the Western Federation of Miners, which led workers in a serious strike in Rossland, British Columbia in 1901, and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which was initially an American-based international union in the resource industry. IWW still exists and is now a general union, not just an industrial one.
What is the Canadian Labour Congress?
The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) is an umbrella body for unions across Canada. Unions choose whether to register with the Congress. CLC represents union interests at a national and international level.
The CLC evolved over a long period of time. The Canadian Labour Union was formed in 1872 from groups that had promoted the Nine Hours Movement. In 1883, the Trades and Labour Congress evolved as successor to the Canadian Labour Union. In 1939, the Trades and Labour Congress expelled all unions affiliated with the American-based Committee for Industrial Organizing (CIO).In 1940, small CIO organizations in Canada amalgamated with the All-Canadian Congress of Labour to form the Canadian Congress of Labour. The expelled unions formed the Canadian Labour Council. In 1956, the Trades and Labour Congress and the Canadian Labour Congress merged to become the Canadian Labour Congress.
For more information, visit the Canadian Labour Congress website.
Are there other umbrella union organizations that were created in Canada?
Yes, all in Quebec. In 1921, the Roman Catholic Church had set up an umbrella trade union organization to try to stop people from joining other unions. It was called the Canadian and Catholic Confederation of Trade Unions. In the 1960s, the Catholic unions severed ties with the church and evolved into the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CNTU). Also influential are the Quebec Teachers Corporation and the Quebec Federation of Labour.
For more information, see these other Canadian Legal FAQs.