Union decertifications on the rise in Ontario

Ontario’s new labour laws have driven down union representation in the province, a new study says.

Unions are “not down for the count, but certainly reeling,” states the Special Report on Unionization Trends 2002, produced by HR consulting firm HROI of Mississauga, Ont.

As a result of the Labour Relations Amendment Act, passed last year, certifications are down and decertifications up, the report states.

“There is definitely a trend happening here. If there were pent-up demands (for decertification), it’s certainly being jumped at now,” said Mike Salveta, HROI managing director. “In 2000, unions were scrambling to beat the new law by campaigning for certifications. The past successes of the drive for certification have now been reversed.”

A glance at the statistics is all that is needed to show unions are on the ropes when it comes to growth, the report states. For organized labour, this seems to be the worst period of growth in the last 12 years. Recent numbers show that in fiscal year 2001/02 there were 307 union certifications, a drop from 521 in 2000/01 and the lowest certification numbers in more than a decade. In 1993/94 certifications numbered 829.

Decertifications are also up from 59 in 2000/01 to 85 in 2001/02, and attempts to decertify are up 51 per cent. The new legislation requires unionized employers to distribute information packages to employees on how to disband a union.

Chris Schenk, research director for the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), said the numbers are not an accurate indication of union trends.

“You can’t take one year to another and make a trend out of it. I’m not sure there are any big repercussions because the numbers have gone up and down in previous years before,” he said.

The union decline is based largely on the political environment right now, said Schenk. Ontario is sending out an anti-employee and anti-union message, he said.

“It’s not a neutral role in labour relations to openly advocate decertification.”

Unions still have the support of a majority of Canadians. A study released by the Work Research Foundation found more than 60 per cent of working Canadians approved of unions, however they would like to see some changes. About 62 per cent said union representation would improve if unions could compete with each other.

HROI said employers should take advantage of Ontario’s labour laws by improving employee relations so there will be fewer reasons for staff to want unionization.

“If you don’t have sound management practices, people will leave or they will stay and seek representation,” Salveta said.

Bad management is the very reason why employees join unions in the first place, he said.

HR professionals need to be strategic and plan to become the employer of choice and employers have to go above and beyond the status quo.

“Don’t think in terms of coming back to dead centre, you have to go beyond that. It has to be a dramatic and noticeable change for employees to believe they don’t need representation,” said Salveta.

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