Changing bargaining agents

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.

The union is the exclusive bargaining agent. It represents employees by:

  • negotiating the collective agreement with the employer
  • managing the grievance process
  • running a hiring hall (in some industries)

By changing unions, employees are changing their exclusive bargaining agent. The old bargaining agent will no longer represent the employees in the bargaining unit. The new bargaining agent takes over representing the employees, including taking over any outstanding grievances.

Generally, the existing collective agreement remains in effect after a change of bargaining agents. The new bargaining agent will negotiate a new collective agreement with the employer to replace the existing one when it expires. However, if the existing collective agreement expires in two or more years, the new bargaining agent can apply to the Labour Relations Board for an order that the collective agreement expires.

There are only certain times a union can apply to replace an existing bargaining agent. The time frames depend on:

  • what industry the employees work in
  • for how many years the collective agreement is in force

In the construction industry:

If the collective agreement is in force for:

  • Three years or less: Then the application can be made in July and August of the last year of the collective agreement
  • More than three years:  Then the application can be made in July and August of the third year of the collective agreement and in July and August of the following years of the collective agreement or any continuation of it

Outside the construction industry:

If the collective agreement is in force for:

  • Three years or less: Then the application can be made uring the seventh and eighth months of the last year of the collective agreement
  • More than three years:  Then the application can be made during the seventh and eighth months of the third year of the agreement and in the seventh and eighth months in the following years of the collective agreement or any continuation of it

A union that wants to replace an existing bargaining agent must make an application for certification and have the support of a majority (50% + one) of employees in the unit before it can do so.

An employee can't ask the Board to change their bargaining agent.

A union can't apply to replace another union within 22 months of a previous application if the Board decided (on the merits) an application to replace another union.

A union is also not permitted to apply to replace another union during a strike or lockout, unless the Board consents.


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This page was last updated: 2021-09-21

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.