Retail workers have the right to organize and belong to a union, regardless of the size of the workplace, store, or company. Retail workers choose unionization for a range of reasons, including:
- to improve pay, scheduling, and benefits
- to gain a voice and have some say over what happens in the store
- to ensure there are clear rules and policies which must be followed for hiring, promotions, and wages
- to gain respect and recognition for their abilities and knowledge
- to access union resources like legal support and educational opportunities
- to unite with other workers in retail and beyond to promote social justice and workers’ rights
Depending on where you live, the process for organizing a union will have one or two steps. In every case, a majority of your co-workers must want a union in order to one to be certified, and you start with cards provided by a union. In card check jurisdictions, there is a set percentage of workers who must sign a card indicating their desire to form a union. Once that percentage has been reached, you submit the cards to your provincial labour board. Staff there will count the cards and determine if the required number has been reached. If it has, the board can certify your union. This process can be entirely confidential if workers want it to be, until the cards are submitted.
In mandatory vote jurisdictions, you will complete this same first step, but there is an added component. Instead of taking the cards as workers’ desire to form a union, the labour board will also require a vote. This is usually held one week after you submit the cards, in the store break room or somewhere comparable.
For a clear explanation of the procedures for each Canadian province, see this link.
If your managers/employers did not know you and your co-workers were signing cards, they will find out at this stage. How employers react varies. Some allow workers to discuss the merits of unionization amongst themselves, without trying to interfere. Many will try to convince workers not to vote for a union. The process of preventing a union may start as soon as you are hired. Search “union avoidance” and you will get a sense of the many consultants and lawyers who specialize in helping employers prevent unionization, as well as some of the web sites and videos that have been created.
A former Walmart manager wrote about his training here.
In retail, managers or company representatives may use one of more of the following approaches:
- intimidation or threats
- apologies and tears (literally)
Some of the tactics companies use are illegal. See Professor David Doorey’s post on the recent ruling which found Target guilty of violating US labour laws here.
The Union Busting Playbook is a useful resource on what to expect.
Organizing a union can be emotional, but working in lousy conditions isn’t enjoyable either. Know your rights, do your research, and you and your co-workers can decide together if a union can help revolutionize your workplace.