Frequently asked questions about forming a union at your music workplace
1: How hard is it to form a union?
If you and some of your fellow musicians and music workers want to form a union, you would meet with a TMA149 organizer to discuss the issues at the workplace. If we think we are ready to go and could get majority support from your fellow musicians, we begin signing union membership cards. These cards indicate that musicians and music workers are interested in forming a union.
Ontario law requires 40 per cent of cards to be signed before we proceed to apply to the Ontario Labour Relations Board — a neutral government body —for certification.
The labour board then conducts a vote. If most of those voting agree that they want a union, the board will certify the union as the musicians and music workers representative. This means that the company is legally obliged to recognize the union and bargain with it.
We will work with you during the entire process. TMA149 has experienced organizers that can go over the details with you. Give us a call at 416-421-1020, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
2: Will the company ever find out who has signed a card?
When cards are submitted to the Labour Board, an official of the Board checks the signatures against a company-provided sample of musician and music worker signatures in order to verify that the union has legitimately signed up most musicians and music workers. The company will find out how many musicians and music workers signed, but will never know exactly who. The information is not released by the Labour Board. After certification, the leaders of the newly unionized group will be elected and the company will know who they are, but by that time it’s too late for the company to stop a union drive.
3: Can I discuss the pros and cons of a union while at work?
Companies cannot prohibit you from discussing the union provided the conversation is within the usual range of social interaction that is allowed in the workplace. However, discussion about the union, or signing union cards, cannot interfere with anyone getting their work done. If you are in doubt, you can always err on the side of caution and keep it to the break room or away from the gig.
4: Is a company allowed to threaten or intimidate musicians or music workers if it wants to stop unionization?
A: No, this is illegal.
In our experience, most companies are sophisticated enough not to resort to intimidation. However company lawyers will advise managers to make statements that spark fears about strikes or tough bargaining by the company. While it is illegal for any company to fire or penalize a musician or music worker who wants to form a union, most musicians or music workers feel more comfortable if union organizing is done without the company’s knowledge. The company will find out if the organizing drive is successful, since the labour board will order a vote.
5: Are strikes common?
About 98 per cent of contracts are achieved through dispute-free negotiation. But if the members at a particular workplace are not willing to accept an inferior settlement they can decide to take a strike vote. A strike vote raises the stakes in negotiations, and contracts are most often settled after a strike vote but before a strike is begun.
No strike can occur without a majority vote by secret ballot, and only the bargaining team of elected musician and music worker representatives may actually call the strike.
6: Are some musicians or music workers ineligible to be unionized?
A: Any full-time or part time employee is eligible. Many contractors are also eligible. For contractors the eligibility and the timing of the campaign needs a close look while planning the campaign.
Additionally labour laws exclude from unionization anyone who exercises managerial authority, including for example, the authority to hire and fire. Often we have disagreements with companies over who is managerial and the labour board has to decide. We usually argue that anyone who wants to be protected by a union should have that right.
The best way to answer these complicated questions is to discuss with us your own particular circumstances. Give us a call at 416-421-1020, or send us an email email@example.com.
7: What about contract and freelance musicians and music workers, can they be unionized?
A: Many contract and freelance musicians and music workers are recognized by Ontario labour law and can become part of the bargaining unit covered by the union. All Local TMA149 union contracts allow the company to hire contract musicians or music workers to cover leaves or to be substitutes. Many contract musicians or music workers can sign a union card and cast a ballot in the union certification vote. A major challenge and opportunity in organizing musicians in particular, is the time limited nature of engagements with companies. This is best discussed and dealt with within your individual campaign, call us at 416-421-1020, or send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
8: Can an individual department be unionized or does the whole company have to be organized at one time?
A: In the media industry, unlike most others, the Labour Board will allow certification of a union representing only one department. So if musicians or music workers are focused in one area of the company, we can organize a union only for musicians or music workers for that one department. Who we classify as musicians and music workers will be an important decision that TMA149 will make with you and your fellow musicians and music workers and the leaders you choose.
9: What will be in our contract?
A: Unions are organizations by the workers, for the workers, so it really depends on what the members want, and what we can negotiate with the company. The members at your workplace determine their own priorities, and negotiations will reflect that. Once you’ve formed a union, you’ll select a bargaining committee consisting of democratically elected musicians and music workers at your workplace and a professional TMA149 staff representative, often the TMA149 Executive Director. You’ll identify priorities for what you would like to get in your contract through meetings and surveys.
Members have the right to vote on any settlement that is reached, by secret ballot vote, and a majority of members voting is required to ratify the agreement.
10: Does the company have to bargain fairly?
Even hard-nosed companies must comply with the law. Ontario labour law requires a company to bargain in good faith and make all reasonable efforts to reach a contract. The Ontario Labour Relations Board enforces that.
11: Why should I join a union if a company is treating me OK?
A: For a lot of reasons.
To start with, the company today may not be the company tomorrow. Without a union contract, you have no guarantee that your wages and working conditions will not be undercut by a new boss or, for that matter, by a new owner.
Unions can provide dignity in the workplace by ensuring that the relationship between the company and the musicians/music workers is not controlled by just one party. The best strength musicians and music workers can have is the strength they lend each other.
And if your company genuinely likes you now, they will respect your right to choose a union. This choice will not damage a positive relationship.
12: Can the union protect poorly-performing musicians and music workers?
TMA149 will not protect any member who is performing poorly over an extended period of time or who is guilty of gross misconduct. But in a unionized environment, a company cannot simply disengage someone without having adequate grounds and being able to prove its case that disengagement is justified. If a musician or music worker believes he or she has been treated unfairly, the musician or music worker has a right to union representation; if the union believes a case can be made, it will be pursued.
13: What does it cost to be a member of TMA149?
A: Union dues are 3 per cent of the fees determined in the agreement and are often taken by payroll deduction. Union dues are tax deductible. Members also are required to provide annual dues, currently scheduled as $196 for 2021.
Union dues are not required to be paid by musicians or music workers until your elected bargaining representatives have negotiated a contract with the company and the musicians and music workers have approved that contract in a majority vote. Union dues help you negotiate better salaries, benefits and working conditions and generally more than make up for the cost of dues.
14: Where do the union dues go?
A: We all share in the benefits of collective bargaining, so it makes sense that everyone pays into the costs of building and maintaining a strong union. TMA149 is a non-profit organization that only receives money from members’ dues. The biggest expenditures are staff costs, which go to ensuring that contracts are negotiated professionally, grievances are pursued, and members receive added services.
Grievance arbitration is another large expenditure. For example, if a member is disengaged unjustly, he or she has access to arbitration, often including the services of a lawyer, with all costs paid by the union.
15: Who makes the decisions in TMA149?
A: TMA149 is a musician and music worker-run union. Each member gets a say in what they think the union should be doing, to debate issues, elect representatives or run themselves, vote on their contracts and have a say in other key issues.
Bargaining units (in other words, each workplace) elect their own committees and manage their own affairs in accordance with TMA149 by-laws and the constitution of our parent union the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM), often referred to as the Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM) in Canada.
Some of the positions members vote for include:
Stewards: These are front-line workers who are there as a point person to go to with questions and concerns.
Bargaining committee: These co-workers represent you in collective bargaining, and, along with a professional TMA149 representative, negotiate with the company on issues such as fees, benefits and working conditions.
Local officers: These roles include President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer.
Delegates: Delegates attend the yearly Canadian Conference and the Triennial AFM Convention where we discuss union priorities, industry changes and strategies.
16: How do unions across the country fight for workers rights together?
By going to the bargaining table together, workers get better wages and benefits from their companies.Now multiply that improvement times the thousands of unionized workplaces across Canada. When more people are paid well and enjoy job security, the taxes they pay ensures stronger and safer communities. Those who belong to unions and benefit from good jobs help those in their community.
The larger societal benefits go beyond economic prosperity. Interesting research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternativesargues that unions have a long history of protecting human rights, defending workers, and making life more secure. Check out the following reports:
· The Union Card: A Ticket Into Middle Class Stability (2015): Compares unionization and income data in Canada to show the impact declining union membership has had on the middle class.
· Unions and Democracy (2014): Unions have a positive influence on communities, Canadian society and the quality of democracy.
· Unions Boost Democracy and Prosperity for All (2015): An investigation on how Canadian unions work together across the country to fight for workers rights and social justice. Together they lobby the government for fair labour laws and workers’ safety and by fighting for fair wages they help people climb the economic ladder.