Can a trade union be a voluntary association?

Ontario, Canada

The following excerpt is from National Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers Union of Canada, (CAW-Canada) v. Melnor Manufacturing Ltd., 1989 CanLII 3128 (ON LRB):

34. A modern trade union is very different from a typical club. It is concerned primarily with the acquisition and exercise of statutory bargaining rights. What club or mere voluntary association has the exclusive statutory right to determine its members' terms and conditions of employment - regardless of what those members might think from time to time? What voluntary association in pursuit of its constitutional objectives has the right to act on behalf of and fundamentally affect the rights of persons who are not its members and who may never have voluntarily sub­scribed to those objectives? What club has a statutory obligation to fairly represent non-members, where necessary, expanding membership funds to do so? What club can compel the payment of membership fees from members and non-members alike? How realistic is it to treat a trade union as a "voluntary" association when the reality is that membership may be made a compulsory condition of employment? In the present case, membership in the Associa­tion has been made a condition of employment for a number of employees. The fact is that while at common law a trade union may still be only a voluntary association, under the Labour Relations Act it is much more than that, and when considering the acquisition, exercise or trans­fer of rights rooted in the statute, one cannot ignore either the practical or legal differences. Likewise, in trying to ascertain a union's essential objects (in an Astgen v. Smith sense) we think the statute provides a guideline - at least in the absence of explicit conditions in the union's own constitution.

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