How to start a union (…in Ontario) Part 1 – two paths to unionization

Part 1 – two paths to unionization

Whether it’s better to have a union is a no-brainer. It’s not really a ‘controversial issue’ with legitimate ‘pros and cons’, or even a matter of ‘personal preference’ – at least not in any meaningful way. Unionized workers inevitably earn much better wages, get more vacation, enjoy better benefits, and have more job security (see the Broadbent Institute’s report on the differences between unionized and non-union workplaces). So if you prefer not to have those advantages, then yes, your personal preference is not to have a union. Otherwise, starting a union is something worth seriously considering. It’s not a challenge to be taken likely though, and the next piece in this series will address some strategic considerations on how to start a union.

Unionized workers inevitably earn much better wages, get more vacation, enjoy better benefits, and have more job security.

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to unionize. The easier of the two is to start contacting established unions in your area to see if they have the resources to dedicate an organizer to help you. If you’re from Ottawa, a list of local unions can be found on the Ottawa District Labour Council’s website. No matter where you are in Ontario, there are lots of unions to choose from. The best choice for you will likely be a union that represents other workers in your industry, which you can find out by browsing the websites of unions in your area to see who they represent.

Sometimes, however, workers can’t find a union that can or will take them. Especially workers in smaller workplaces can encounter this hurdle. In that case, you have to take the harder (but possibly more exciting) of the two paths to unionizing: Organizing an independent union!

This can be fun, but it is also very hard work and requires a dedicated group of workers to make it happen. And you’ll need guidance. Thankfully, there are some good resources to help you. Though somewhat outdated, Organizing Unions by Mary Cornish and Lynn Spink is a helpful guide that can get you started. And even if a union can’t organize your workplace directly, maybe you can find experienced organizers who will coach you through the process at the very least – in Ottawa, for example, you’re likely to find experienced organizers by contacting the Workers Action Group of Solidarity Against Austerity or the Ottawa-Outaouais branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Starting a union at your workplace can be challenging. But if you’re successful, it is absolutely worth the effort – as well as the increased wages, better benefits, more vacation, and greater job security.