In past articles, the GPMC has addressed important milestones in Canada’s organized labor history.

However, it is also important to highlight how legal frameworks, legislation, and the concept of “industrial unionism” have impacted collective bargaining in Canada.

Collective bargaining has always played a critical role for Canadian workers, ensuring that hard-working men and women have a way to come together and negotiate with corporations as a group.

Achieving a balance of power between employees and employers, however, will always be a challenge. This challenge runs parallel with the “Canadian Dream” (as coined by the GPMC) of having a successful “hybrid socioeconomic system” – a governing structure that attempts to meld capitalism and socialism in a fair and equitable manner.

Since 1952, the GPMC | NMC has helped to facilitate the “Canadian Dream” by providing leadership for unionized maintenance. The GPMC | NMC provides:

  • Maintenance customers with the highly skilled tradespeople they need to maintain complex industrial facilities.
  • Pragmatic and flexible approaches in the development phase of upcoming projects.
  • Valuable information contractors can use when bidding on maintenance work.
  • Good-paying, long-term jobs for skilled tradespeople (during and after construction).

The Early Years

Digital Oil Painting by the GPMC | NMC editorial team.
Based on a sketch drawn in Hamilton 1872 showing a procession of the Nine Hour Movement.
Original sketch artist unknown.

Collective bargaining in Canada can be traced back to the early 19th century when the first industrial revolution was well underway in Canada.

As factories and industrial establishments multiplied, labor-related issues such as work hours, poor conditions, and low wages became prevalent. In response to these challenges maintenance workers and other laborers in Canada began organizing themselves into unions.

A significant milestone during this period was the establishment of the Toronto-born Canadian Labor Union (CLU), in 1873. It was comprised of over 45 separate unions. The CLU actively supported workers’ rights advocating for their ability to negotiate collectively with employers. However, the CLU only lasted for 6 years (disbanding in 1878). During this time, it helped introduce the concept of Industrial Unionism to the Canadian public, which was unpopular with both industry and shareholders.

The Emergence of Industrial Unionism

Header image of the short-lived One Big Union’s original constitution. See the full recovered version here.

In the 1900s Canada’s labor movement experienced significant growing pains. Maintenance unions started embracing the CLU example (Industrial Unionism) – a model that serves workers and employers in various industries with a single union, as opposed to having separate unions for each trade.

This approach ultimately increased the bargaining power of all workers.

Another important development during this period was the establishment of the Calgary-born One Big Union (OBU) in 1919. The OBU was another ambitious labor organization like the CLU, with the goal of uniting workers from all Provinces. Due to some unfortunate “infighting” and the typical pushback from Canadian corporations, the OBU only lasted until 1922. Read the original Constitution of the One Big Union here.

Similar to their Toronto neighbours who founded the CLU, the Calgary-based OBU likely felt like their work had been all in vain.

If they did, they were wrong.

Thanks to the efforts made by the men and women in the CLU and the OBU, the concept of Industrial Unions was now a permanent fixture in the Canadian zeitgeist (“Spirit of the Age”).

The first Canada Labour Code, known as the Labour Code of Canada, was enacted in 1965. It was primarily concerned with labor relations. In 1966, the Canada Safety Council was established to promote safety in workplaces across the country. While the 1965 code addressed certain labor standards, it did not have robust provisions regarding occupational health and safety.

Legal Frameworks and Labor Laws

Digital Oil Painting by the GPMC | NMC editorial team.
Sir John John A. Macdonald standing Center/Left
Original title: Fathers of Confederation, 1867
Based on work by Robert Harris and Rex Woods, Library and Archives Canada

Throughout the 19th century, legal frameworks and labor legislation were established to strengthen the bargaining power of Canadian maintenance unions. The Trades Union Act of 1872 spawned by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald provided recognition for unions and protected workers’ rights to engage in collective bargaining.

Furthermore, the impact of the Wagner Act, in 1935 on labour laws in the United States had an influence on labor regulations in Canada. It strengthened the position of labor unions and their ability to negotiate for workers’ rights. In the U.S. this act led to the establishment of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which then served as a model for labour organizations in Canada.

In 1944 the Canadian federal government introduced a system for collective labour relations using emergency powers during wartime. These powers allowed legislation in areas that were typically under jurisdiction. After World War II federal and provincial laws took over this responsibility, eventually forming what is now referred to as the Canada Labour Code. This code is based on the principle of promoting the well-being of workers and employers alike. It sets forth the ground rules of collective bargaining in Canada, while laying the framework for resolving labour disputes fairly and constructively.

The emergence of trade unions also brought about changes in labour laws.

Before modern labour laws were introduced there were no “rules” of collective bargaining. Trade unions had limited recognition. Any agreements they reached lacked the power (status or “clout”) that a “legally binding” agreement possessed.

As a result, some employers and workers ignored the labour agreements they had made. and without a legal process by which to resolve disputes, some employers and workers exacted punishing retribution upon each other.

Naturally, this era was marked by instability, labor conflicts, and disruptions in production.

“The strong relationships established between the committee members and our employer partners have allowed us to build trusting partnerships which are essential in the collective bargaining process.”

The Impact of the GPMC | NMC on Collective Bargaining

Since its establishment in 1952, the GPMC | NMC (General Presidents Maintenance Committee for Canada/National Maintenance Council) has played a role in fostering trust-based partnerships between owners, contractors, and skilled workers.

The organization’s origins can be traced back to its contract negotiations at what’s now known as the Shell refinery in Sarnia, Ontario. By the end of the 1960s, this alliance had reached agreements in four Provinces and had expanded its activities into the mining and chemical industries.

During the 1970s and 1980s new agreements were signed in sectors such as fertilizer production and power generation. Activities also expanded in Alberta while acquiring clients in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

By 1990, the GPMC | NMC was overseeing north of seven million work hours annually. In the 1990s the number of work hours increased to 10 million. By 2022, the GPMC | NMC reported 23.5 million craft hours in a single year.

GPMC | NMC plays an important role in Canada’s economy. Their agreements provide full-time employment for over 14,000 tradespeople and contribute to over $1.1 billion in wages and benefits annually.

They collaborate with more than 120 employers and have agreements in seven of the ten Canadian Provinces. GPMC | NMC manages maintenance agreements across sectors including oil sands extraction, oil refining, petrochemicals, mining, electricity generation, pulp and paper production, natural gas processing, steel manufacturing, and consumer product production.

The collective bargaining done by maintenance unions under the GPMC | NMC umbrella has had a positive impact on the lives of workers. Using pragmatic and fair negotiation methods, unions have achieved compensation packages to improve working conditions and expand benefits for their members.

This collective bargaining has also played a role in addressing workplace safety concerns while ensuring fair treatment and job security. It has been instrumental in enforcing pay equity via GPMC | NMC agreements and providing long-term employment opportunities free from discrimination.

Throughout the years, these maintenance unions have shown their ability to adapt and tackle the challenges brought about by a changing economy. They have expanded their focus to include workplace diversity, environmental sustainability, and technological advancements.

Interest-Based vs Power-Based Collective Bargaining

The history of maintenance unions in Canada tells a story of resilience, progress, and an ongoing commitment to ensuring the rights and fair treatment of workers.

From its inception, the GPMC | NMC has played a vital role in shaping Canada’s labour landscape.


  1. By setting a baseline for pragmatic and fair negotiations at the onset of the GPMC | NMC. In other words, a critical factor in the success of the GPMC | NMC has been the example set forth by the original founders. This example set the tone for the future, and that tone is one of trust.
  2. By focusing on market conditions. Being fluid and flexible enough to make the correct decisions for the betterment of our industry as a whole.

Our goal has always been to negotiate the best possible agreements for our members but at the same time position ALL parties for success. We all win together or we all lose together.

We choose to win.

Successful collective bargaining is conducted using an interest-based model, whereby the GPMC | NMC works with its employer partners to deliver a competitive collective agreement to meet the needs of our members and our industry.

Committee members have always shown the courage to make the right decisions based on market conditions. They have always made tough decisions and have been willing to stand up and take accountability for their actions. Tough, strategic decisions are made during every round of collective bargaining.

The strong relationships established between the committee members and our employer partners have allowed us to build trusting partnerships which are essential in the collective bargaining process.

Knowing your partners is a major factor that contributes to negotiating the best agreement(s) possible.

Collective bargaining is an activity that committee members give their undivided attention to. The GPMC | NMC is extremely fortunate to have many skilled negotiators involved in the bargaining process. Our representatives are highly skilled individuals who have negotiated many successful collective agreements throughout their careers.

Our goal today is the same as it was in 1952. To foster trust and respect during all negotiations. Negotiations that ultimately improve the lives of all members while at the same time ensuring the viability of critical Canadian industries.