- My Chapter
- News & Programs
- About Us
- Contact Us
Aren’t we already protected by employment law, human rights, and labour relations laws without a union...
Do we really need more protection?
ANSWER: Labour relations law only deals with unions and unionized employees and workplaces. The rights that come from labour relations law (like the duty of the employer to bargain in good faith, to consult on workplace matters, to abide by agreements made and the decisions of impartial tribunals) are only accessible through unionization. Other laws typically only protect the individual, not the group, which also means that the individual is responsible for going to court to enforce their rights under employment and human rights law. The process is expensive and lengthy. Labour relations law is meant to provide a simplified and accessible means of protecting rights in the workplace.
Is there an alternative to unions? Could there be a more creative solution to the problems that unions address?
ANSWER: Many groups of professional or managerial staff form their own formal or informal associations. Some of these are constituted as societies under the appropriate legislation. But these associations don’t have legal standing under labour relations law. They have none of the rights of a union. An employer is not required to consult or negotiate with them and any agreement that is achieved can only be enforced through civil action under contract law. These associations also almost always stand alone with no professional staff or broad base of experience to draw upon except for expensive independent professionals like lawyers and consultants.
One purpose of labour relations law is to create stability in the workplace. To accomplish that goal, trade offs of rights and obligations are made between employers and unions to create an organized collective bargaining system. That means that the only way to gain the powers of a union is to accept the obligations as well, and certify through the Labour Relations Board.
It’s very similar to membership in a professional society. An individual may educate themselves and seek to act like a professional, but the law often requires that individuals be licensed and abide by the rules of the licensing body in order to have access to the privileges and responsibilities of the profession and act in a professional capacity.
Many PEA chapters were informal associations before joining the PEA. After researching the union and non-union options, they made the move from informal association to certification with the PEA because they found the PEA to be an effective alternative that reflected their own professional values.
As professional and managerial staff, we work very closely with senior management...
Won’t unionizing destroy that relationship?
ANSWER: Almost all PEA members report either no change or some improvement in their relationships with their managers after unionizing. One of the consequences of collective bargaining is that the person you work so closely with likely won’t continue to be the person with whom you negotiate your salary or benefits. That means that some of the stress of the imperatives to “do more with less” and “maximize productivity” will be shifted from the personal relationship to the bargaining table. When staff at the University of Victoria joined the PEA, more than half of the employees in positions which became excluded from the PEA unit had signed membership cards.
I like our informal association, but we need more clout to get the attention of the employer...
What about certifying our association as a union?
ANSWER: If your association is large enough and you can convince the Labour Relations Board that it can be a viable representative under the Labour Code over the long term, you may be able to be certified as a trade union. That would not, however, give you the financial and professional expertise of joining an existing trade union. Your association would be entering an entirely new relationship with your employer governed by a highly specialized set of laws and precedents.
Homegrown associations attract a lot of loyalty for very good reasons. Individuals have a lot of say in the decisions which are made by the local group. They reflect local history and priorities. They know the workplace and the employer. The PEA recognizes these strengths and believes they should be reflected in its local chapters as well. PEA chapters enjoy a lot of autonomy. Aside from basic union security provisions, the PEA doesn’t impose any contract terms on local agreements. Members of the chapters set the priorities for their chapters and participate in most aspects of the union’s work. The PEA provides financial resources and professional staff who are experienced and knowledgeable in labour relations in general, and in representing professionals in particular, but responsibility for major decisions is left with the local chapter.
If we unionize, won’t we have to strike?
ANSWER: Local PEA chapters set their own bargaining agenda, priorities, and strategies. It will always be up to PEA members in their local to decide whether or not to go on strike. Although there have been a number of strong strike votes, a PEA local has only gone on strike once, and that was as part of a much larger bargaining association. The PEA depends on there being a close connection between the membership and the bargaining team so that we can negotiate with confidence that the entire chapter is strongly supportive of our position at the table. Employees have had to show management the strength of that support to bring about satisfactory settlements. But just how far the chapter will go to bring about a settlement and what kind of settlement will be satisfactory will always be up to the members.
If I join a union, won’t I have to do whatever the union tells me to just so I can keep my job...
I wouldn’t be able to cross a picket line, so I’ll be out of work too just because some other union goes out on strike. And what about unions that go on strike elsewhere? What happens to me and my job if I join a union and then cross a picket line?
ANSWER: The picket line is one of the most important and powerful tools a union has to bring about improvements in the workplace. Unionists place a lot of importance on respecting picket lines. Many unions will discipline members with different kinds of sanctions when they do cross picket lines, but a union can’t take your job away from you.
The PEA constitution contains no discipline provision. The PEA cannot take any action against a member who crosses a picket line or who disagrees with any other request of the union. The PEA knows that professionals are independent thinkers and that professionals value that independence. We believe that professionals respond better to persuasion rather than coercion. The PEA will make sure that members are well informed about job action being taken by other unions and will urge members not to cross picket lines, but the decision whether to cross or not will always belong to the member.
Doesn’t joining a union create a stronger expectation that we will respect picket lines...
Aren’t we more likely to face retaliation from strikers if we cross their line as union members rather than as non-union managers?
ANSWER: PEA members generally report that relations with other unions improve after they join the PEA. Having more employees unionized generally improves the situation of all employees. Being unionized protects employees who honour a picket line from any retaliation by the employer, and that creates a higher expectation that unionized employees will respect a picket line. Most often it’s the union that takes the blame for not getting its members to respect the line, not the individual members. Violence related to strikes is actually very uncommon. When it happens, it makes news so we come to associate it with all strikes. But a picket line is a strong form of social persuasion which unions only resort to when their members feel very strongly about the situation they are trying to resolve. If you cross a line as a manager or as a union member, you can expect hard feelings, but not retaliation.
What level of representation can we expect in PEA governance?
ANSWER: All chapters have representation on the Association Executive. PEA Table Officers — President, First and Second Vice-Presidents and Secretary-Treasurer — are elected by and from delegates to the Biennial Convention. Each chapter is entitled to send delegates to convention in accordance with the number of members in the chapter. While the Biennial Convention is the PEA’s supreme decision-making authority, the Association Executive governs between conventions.