Workplace Wire

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Union “Salting” – Yes, it’s legal, and yes, they count


One of the challenges for unions seeking to organize workers is to get “inside organizers” with regular access to employees.  A solution to this problem is the practice of “salting”, where a union sends in an organizer or two to get hired by the employer – sometimes these organizers are salaried employees of the union, and sometimes they are just out-of-work union members.  Sometimes they receive pay for engaging in the organizing activity, sometimes they don’t.  The practice is especially common in the construction industry.

Salting drives many employers mad.  Additionally galling to many employers is the fact that the “salts” may actually count as members of the bargaining unit, when determining the percentage of support that the union has among the employees.

In recent times, Ontario employers have been challenging the practice of “salting” before the OLRB, with no success whatsoever.  The OLRB has stated that, not only is “salting” a lawful and legitimate practice, but there is no reason under the statute to exclude the “salts” from the count.  The OLRB has not accepted the argument that the credibility of evidence tendered by “salts” should be questionable because they have an alleged “vested interest” in the outcome, and has not agreed that salting violates the principle of majority rule.

In the most recent case, the Board put another nail in the coffin of arguments against “salting”:

… it is immaterial whether a salt is receiving pay from the union at the same time as receiving compensation from the employer.  … such circumstances are irrelevant in the determination as to whether a “salt” is an employee.  … the Board does not give weight or value to the motives of a person in its determination as to who is an employee.  … the fact the Summers and McLeod have participated in “salting”, a legal and permissible organizing tactic, should in no way result in a characterization that they do not have clean hands, as asserted by the responding party.  Their participation in a legal activity in no way impacts on their credibility as witnesses in these proceedings.

For employers who oppose the practice, it’s clear that only a legislative change can alter the legal rules at this point.

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