Union rates outpaced by employment growth

Share of women quadruples between 1977 and 2003
By Uyen Vu
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/28/2004

The image of a male, blue-collar worker no longer describes the typical Canadian unionized worker, according to a study by Statistics Canada.

In the 26-year period between 1977 and 2003, the share of women in the labour movement has quadrupled from 12 per cent to 48 per cent. Where only one in 10 working women belonged to a union in 1977, that number is three in 10 in 2003.

Among working men, the share of those unionized fell from 47 per cent to 31 per cent in the study period.

The study drew from data collected through the Corporations and Labour Unions Returns Act, which was repealed in 1995. Numbers after 1997 came from the Labour Force Survey.

Overall, the share of union members among all workers declined from 32.6 per cent in 1977 to 30 per cent today, where it has been for most of the past decade. Union membership increased in actual numbers, from 2.8 million to four million, but this rise was outpaced by the number of jobs created.

The gender shift in the labour movement, said the study, is the result of several factors, including:

•the growing share of women in the workforce;

•an increase in the number of women in the public sector, which is heavily unionized;

•a growth in the number of women in industries and jobs that were traditionally male-dominated and unionized;

•an increased effort by unions to organize part-time and temporary workers, many of whom are women; and

•an increase in union membership in sectors previously resistant to labour organization, such as the service sector.

Union representation has been receding among manufacturing workers, according to the study. Drawing on Labour Force Survey numbers, which offer more detailed union data, the study author finds that between 1997 and 2003, union representation has also declined among technical health workers, particularly health, medical, dental and veterinary technologists and therapists.

In the same period, union numbers made the most gains among women, young workers, and workers in public administration, child care and home support services.

The share of unionized workers has changed little in terms of regions. Between 1977 and 2003, unionization rates:

•decreased from 34.1 per cent to 29.3 per cent in Alberta;

•increased from 34.7 per cent to 37.6 per cent in Quebec;

•declined from 31 per cent to 26.8 per cent in Ontario;

•rose from 26.8 per cent to 27.1 per cent in the Prairies; and

•dropped most dramatically from 40.9 per cent to 32.4 per cent in British Columbia.

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