Acquiring bargaining rights

A union can become the exclusive bargaining agent for a unit of employees in one of two ways:

  • Certification
  • Voluntary recognition

What is certification?

Under the Labour Relations Code (the Code), a union that is granted the right to act on behalf of a group of employees is certified as the exclusive bargaining agent for that unit. The term certification is used to refer both to the Board's order creating the bargaining relationship between the union and employer and to the document that records of the order. 

Only a trade union can apply to the Board for certification. Learn more about the certification process. Under the Code, every employee is free to be a member of a trade union and participate in its lawful activities.   

What is voluntary recognition?

A union and an employer may agree that the union will act as the exclusive bargaining agent for a group of the employer’s employees. They do this by negotiating a collective agreement (called a voluntary recognition agreement). The employees may show support for the union as their bargaining agent by voting to ratify the collective agreement. These types of relationships are common in industries that have short-term projects such as construction or film, but can be entered into regardless of the duration of work.

Voluntarily recognized bargaining relationships exist largely outside of the Code. The Board doesn't oversee or scrutinize the creation or administration of voluntarily recognized bargaining relationships, except when it is required to do so to resolve a Code-related issue. However, if a party to a voluntary recognition agreement wants to rely on that agreement before the Board, they must file a copy with the Board within 30 days of signing it. Otherwise, the Board may not consider the agreement in any Code-related proceeding before it. 

A certification is a formal record issued by the Labour Relations Board that confirms the union is the exclusive bargaining agent for the employee(s). Learn more about how to certify a workplace. 

There are a number of reasons why the trade union representing a group of employees can change. Sometimes the union initiates the change. Other times, a different union organizes the employees and initiates the change by applying for certification.

Unions must include evidence of membership when making an application to be certified to represent a group of employees. The group of employees a union applies to represent is called a proposed bargaining unit.

The union must have a certain level of employee support to represent a group of employees. Learn more about how much support the union needs. 


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This page was last updated: 2022-06-03

Disclaimer: The information on this website is provided for general purposes only and is not legal advice. This information is subject to the Labour Relations Code, the Labour Relations Board Rules, the Labour Relations Regulation and the published decisions of the Board

The Labour Relations Board acknowledges the traditional territories of the many diverse Indigenous Peoples in the geographic area we serve. With gratitude and respect, we acknowledge that the Board’s office is located on the traditional unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səlil̓wətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.