There is not much more frightening for employers than the possibility of becoming unionized. Upon learning of a union drive in the workplace, an employer should develop a strategic response to ensure the best chance of defeating a union’s organizing efforts.

Communication to employees regarding a union is an important tool that can be used by employers to combat a union’s organizing campaign. An employer is permitted to express its views about a union as long as the employer does not use “coercion, intimidation, threats, promises or undue influence”. The OLRB can order certification without a vote where the employer’s communications to employees contravenes the Labour Relations Act (the “Act”)As such, a union organizing campaign is a period during which the employer’s conduct and all communication will be scrutinized by the union and possibly the OLRB. Employers must develop an appropriate communication strategy that achieves the goal of reducing the likelihood of unionization while not violating the Act.

Two cases provide some insight on the dos and don’ts of employer communications. In CEP v Boehmer Box,the employer circulated three memos to employees.[1] The memos made references to unemployment, the ability of the company to compete and the possible loss of customers. The employer also noted that facilities in which the CEP held bargaining rights had closed. The OLRB found that the employer had raised the possibility of job loss by connecting unionization with a loss of the company’s competitiveness in violation of the Act. The Board ordered certification without a vote.

In Service Employees International Union v PRP Senior Living Inc. o/a Sunrise of Aurora, the employer undertook significant steps in an attempt to prevent unionization.[2] Senior management and executives from the United States attended the workplace as soon as the union organizing efforts commenced. Senior management held a series of one-on-one meetings with employees to discuss the employees’ views of the union and workplace issues. In addition, the union alleged the following: that videos, bulletins and letters were provided to employees which suggested that the union would lie or mislead; materials questioned the employees ongoing job security; and town hall meetings were held to discuss the union. The OLRB noted that certain acts by the employer in isolation would not have breached the Act. However, the cumulative effect of the employer’s actions constituted “undue influence” and as a result, certification was ordered.

The following are some practical tips for communicating with employees during a union drive:

  • carefully craft written communiqués to employees that address the process and importance of voting, the successes achieved without the union and the negatives associated with a union;
  • highlight issues that are supported by documentation such as the union’s ability to deduct fees or the quantum of strike pay;
  • respond to incorrect assertions advanced by the union;
  • consider the timing for the delivery of communiqués to employees as opposed to a bombardment of communications with employees;
  • assume all communication (written or verbal) will be attacked by the union;
  • ensure supervisors and management are informed about the process and the importance of proper communication with employees.

A union organizing drive is an intense period in which an employer’s response must be carefully considered. Proper communication with employees is an important component of the overall strategy that should be developed for the best chance of preventing unionization.