Under the current Labour Relations Act, 1995 (“LRA”), once a bargaining unit is certified, any changes to the composition of the bargaining unit are voluntary. Bill 148 proposals, if passed, would amend the LRA to provide that:

  • the Ontario Labour Relations Board (“OLRB”) can review the structure of a bargaining unit if it is satisfied that the bargaining unit or units are no longer appropriate for collective bargaining in the circumstances; and
  • where the OLRB certifies a union (or council of unions) for a bargaining unit and the same union or council of unions is certified for a unit of employees in a separate location of the same employer (or for an additional unit at the same location), whether or not a collective agreement is in effect in the prior certified unit, the OLRB can consolidate or vary the bargaining unit description.

In short, the proposed changes would give the OLRB significant powers to change the structure of bargaining units in specific circumstances.

Along with other key proposals for reforming the LRA, the proposals related to the structure of bargaining units will make it easier for unions to consolidate their bargaining power and expand into new sectors. For example, one underlying rationale for providing these powers to the OLRB is to allow for the expansion of union representational rights in industries or sectors where there are multiple small locations; for example, in the retail and restaurant industries. Historically, unions have struggled to establish a foothold in such industries.

Employers should be mindful that these Bill 148 proposals could make it significantly easier for unions to overcome challenges that have been historically associated with single unit locations.

Bill 148 passed First Reading on June 1, 2017 and, in an expedited process, was referred to the Special Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs the same day. The Special Committee has since posted a Notice of Public Hearings on Bill 148 to be held:

  • the week of July 10, 2017 in Thunder Bay, North Bay, Ottawa, Kingston, and Windsor-Essex. Those planning to make an oral presentation in any of these locations must provide their name and contact information to Committee Clerk by 10:00 am on July 4, 2017; and
  • the week of July 17, 2017 in London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Niagara, Hamilton, and Toronto. Those planning to make an oral presentation in any of these locations must provide their name and contact information to Committee Clerk by 10:00 am on July 10, 2017.

Alternatively, written submissions may be sent to the Special Committee by 5:30 pm on July 21, 2017.

This gives employers and other stakeholders a final chance to have their voices heard on the Bill 148 amendments.

If you have questions or concerns about these or any of the Bill 148 amendments to Ontario’s labour and employment laws do not hesitate to contact the Norton Rose Fulbright Canada Labour and Employment Team.

Written with Andrew Nicholl, lawyer. 

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