The process of unionization can be either complex and confusing, or simple and straightforward. It all depends on one’s point of view. A case in point is the recent announcement that paramedic workers employed by the Beausoleil First Nations voted to join the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).
Both the announcement and the news report appear to provide the same message: OPSEU representatives met with paramedic workers. The workers were asked if they wanted to join OPSEU. The workers voted yes. The process was complete.
Is it truly that simple? No, not really.
Not identified clearly in these messages are the complexities involved with determining the jurisdictional, classification, and membership issues. On the matters of jurisdiction, the news report mentions that the employer (Beausoleil First Nations) filed an objection based on the Canada Labour Code, which would apply if the workers were deemed to be federal employees. This was not successful as the workers were certified as a union by the Ontario Labour Relations Board and thus they fall under provincial legislation.
The membership and classification issues will need to be clarified to determine which positions are now included in this particular unit and which positions are excluded, based on the provisions of Ontario’s Labour Relations Act. There is a lot of work ahead for both the employer and the union as they begin to identify and establish their respective roles in preparation for bargaining a first collective agreement.
In the meantime, there are two important messages that do seem clear and straightforward. First, the paramedic workers wanted the legal protection of a union to negotiate better wages. Second, there is no evidence that the employer has acted ‘badly’ since the unionization took place. With a focus on improved wages and maintaining positive relations between the parties, hopefully these messages will continue to steer the path to constructive labour-relations progress for everyone involved.
- Identify the steps and processes that are required for workers to become certified in Ontario.
- Besides jurisdiction, what are the distinct differences between the Canada Labour Code and Ontario’s Labour Relations Act?
- In your opinion, why is there a presumption that an employer will react badly once employees become certified as members of a bargaining unit?
- Besides the opportunity to negotiate for better wages, what other protections could a union offer to paramedic workers in this case?