Despite increasing attacks, Canadian unions remain strong and are growing, according to new data from Statistics Canada. Union membership is increasingly younger, more female and more representative of diversity in the broader workforce.
Fifteen years ago, there were more union members in manufacturing than in any other sector of the economy. Now there are twice as many unionized workers in education than in manufacturing, and almost two and half times as many in health care and social services. An increasing share are working in part-time or temporary jobs, in smaller workplaces and have been in their jobs for less than five years.
The number of union members in Canada increased by 2.5 per cent to 4.38 million in 2012, with the unionization rate increasing to 29.5 per cent. Canada’s unionization rate has fluctuated around 30 percent for the last 15 years, declining slightly overall.
Unionization rates have declined among men and workers aged 35+. The share of private sector employees who are union members declined from 19 per cent in 1997 to 16 per cent in recent years, but those losses were partly offset with rising union coverage in public sector workplaces.
The changing face of unions provides opportunities for growth and renewal, but also creates challenges for organizing, communicating and mobilizing membership.
That’s why recent fairness-themed projects initiated by the CLC and many affiliates are so important. Unite for Fairness is CUPE’s national project to reach out and speak personally with each of our 627,000 members. Communicators from every local will connect directly with members and celebrate the value of unions. Training sessions have taken place across the country, with many more planned in 2014.
Unionization rates have risen among younger workers and women in the past fifteen years while declining among men and workers aged 35+. The share of private sector employees who are union members declined from 19 per cent in 1997 to 16 per cent in recent years, but those losses were partly offset with rising union coverage in public sector workplaces, increasing to 71 per cent.
Unionization rates have declined especially in manufacturing, utilities, resources and information, culture & recreation, but they’ve increased in public administration, business building & support, and finance & insurance.
An increasing share of union members work in smaller sized establishments of fewer than 100, up from 45 per cent in 1997 to 49 per cent in 2012. This reflects both an increase of the share of the workforce in smaller establishments combined with rising unionization rates in small workplaces and declining rates in larger establishments.
A growing share of union members has been working at their current job for less than five years up to 37 per cent in 2012 from 28 per cent in 1997. This reflects both shorter average tenures in the workforce in general and rising unionization rates among employees with shorter tenures.
While unionization rates remain lower among part-time and temporary workers than full-time and permanent workers, these gaps are shrinking, and with temp workers making up a larger share of the workforce, temporary and part-time workers are also a rising share of union membership.
Union membership suffered the biggest decline in British Columbia, falling from over 34 per cent in 1998 to below 30 per cent in 2012, but in other provinces unionization rates have stayed relatively strong over the past 15 years, declining slightly in Ontario and Alberta, while rising in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
While unions in Canada remain strong and are increasingly diverse, we face growing challenges and attacks. Conservative politicians are taking direct aim at the influence of unions, with successive bills to undermine worker and labour rights. They are using misguided austerity measures to put the squeeze on public sector workers, suppressing their wages, pensions and benefits, increasing privatization and contracting out and cutting positions.