Why Private Law Firms Cannot Help Unionized Employees

Why Private Law Firms Cannot Help Unionized Employees


Our firm regularly receives inquiries from frustrated unionized employees who have been injured on or off the job, are experiencing harassment, or are battling other legal challenges at their place of work. In most of these cases, the employee feels that the union is not taking their dispute, injury or disability seriously, or is outright ignoring them. Although we certainly appreciate how disappointing this can be, we as a private law firm cannot assist you. Here’s why.

Why does being part of a Union mean that I cannot retain your law firm?

We cannot assist unionized employees against their employers. There are almost no exceptions to this rule and, yes, we know it is frustrating. When you join a union, the union becomes your sole representative to your employer. Every possible dispute you may have with your employer is ruled by the collective agreement between the union and your employer. Hours of work, conditions of work, the severance package you get if you are fired – all of these and other issues are governed solely by the collective agreement.

Your disputes will usually be the subject then of a grievance and not of a civil lawsuit. As such, you cannot retain a private lawyer such as our firm to sue your employer. The union must listen to your concerns and advocate on your behalf. It can use a union steward to do this or a lawyer – it is up to the union how best to advocate for you.

What if your union is not helping you?

Sometimes we hear that a union is rather useless, that it is refusing to do its job and advocate for you. In that regard, please note:

1. Be clear to your union: make sure you have copies of letters or emails from you to the union telling the union exactly what you want them do to for you. Phone calls are not enough.

2. If you have proof that your union is ignoring you, our firm can send a letter to the union urging them to take your complaint and grievance seriously. That has really helped our clients in the past.

3. A union has wide latitude at law as to how to best advocate for you. If they think your case is a losing case, they may refuse to grieve your case or to fight for compensation for you.

4. Only if you have a clearly legitimate case and your union refuses to help you, may you appeal to the Labour Relations Board on what is known as an application for a failure of their duty to represent you. These are rare cases and they involve both expense and delays.

Concluding Comments

Many unions are competent and do a good job. We urge clients to work with their union as much as they can. We regret that by law we cannot assist in these situations, but, again, that is the trade-off when you join a unionized workforce.