How Do Union Votes Work?

November 23, 2022

A union is an organization that serves as an exclusive representative for a group of employees to bargain for wages, hours, benefits, health and safety, working conditions, and more. For a union to become your exclusive representative, a majority of the employees must vote to unionize or form a union. 

The purpose of a union is to represent the voice of the workers collectively, and thus union members must vote to elect certain officials that make decisions on their behalf. A sufficient number of employees must agree to be represented to form a union, and a union vote held for this purpose is known as a vote to unionize. 

If majority votes are received in favor and a union is formed, workers can then decide whether they want to join the union as a member. Members then gain the right to vote in internal union elections. Workers choosing not to be members can still enjoy union representation, but cannot vote on contracts or elect union officials. 

How Is a Union Formed?

There are two main ways workers in an organization can form unions. These are a certification election or a card check. 

A card check does not involve voting to form a union. Only a third-party certification is needed that signs authorization cards stating that the employees wish for union representation. 

A certification election is where workers organize and share union authorization cards to advocate for union representation. The union can petition the National Labor Relations Board to hold an official election if enough signed cards are collected. 

The election ballots are confidential, and elections are generally organized in person at the place of employment. However, an increasing number of unions now allow mail-in and online voting for added convenience to the unionization process. If most workers vote to form a union, the employer is legally bound to recognize its formation. 

What Is the Election Process Within Unions?

Unions are democratic bodies, which means that the direction of the unions is mainly in the hands of the members that constitute it. Members can elect their executive representatives on a national, provincial, or local level. 

Although the election process varies significantly depending on each union’s operation, below is an example of a generic election union process for a national union. 

Electing Executives

One essential body in a union is the executive committee, which generally comprises a president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary. A typical term for these elected officers is about two to three years, and the executive can have more positions if the workers wish. 

Executive committees are elected on all levels of the union, whether local, provincial, or national. The national executive forms the union's governing body and comprises an executive committee and one elected member (usually the president) of each locality or region. 

Sometimes, unions can opt for an executive committee for provincial-level unions and include local representatives in each committee. If there is a large-scale local union, it can be categorized into several chapters to represent members at different job sites. Each chapter and local body will therefore elect its own executive. 

The Election Process

Voting on a provincial and local level is generally done at polling places, through the post or voting by machine. However, there can be variations in voting procedures; for instance, many unions are now opting for online voting systems. 

Voting for the national executive occurs at the Annual General Meeting, usually conducted via a secret ballot election and majority vote. For larger unions, it is common for local bodies to send delegates to the Annual Meeting who vote on behalf of all locality members. The number of delegates depends on the active membership numbers for the union; for instance, each local body may send one delegate for every one hundred members to vote at the annual meeting. 

Other Union Elections

Union members can elect more than just the executive body. For instance, many unions hold elections for union stewards (shop stewards) that link the union and the bargaining unit. 

Stewards are elected from their fellow employees whose interests the union represents and defends. Unions can also elect representatives for specific demands, such as health and safety representatives, and so on. 

Of course, for a streamlined virtual voting process for any union election or issue, ElectionBuddy’s got you covered. Check out our online voting options today!

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