Union density thinned again in 2007

Workforce has grown faster than unionization over the last 10 years
By Lorna Harris
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 03/26/2008

The percentage of nonfarm employees in Canada covered by collective agreements, also known as ‘union density,’ fell slightly in 2007 to 30.3 per cent, according to a report recently published by Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC).

In 2007, about 40,000 more people were represented by unions than in the previous year, bringing the total number of unionized workers to 4,480,020 (up less than one per cent). However, the nonfarm labour force grew by 2.2 per cent (from just under 14.5 million to just over 14,782,000).

HRSDC reports the civilian workforce as a whole increased 1.4 per cent in 2007 to 17,593,000. Using this total, union density as a percentage of the entire civilian labour force would be 25.5%. However, for the purpose of discussing union density, the figure of 25.5% is misleading since few farm workers are allowed to join unions.

Except for 2006 when the number of unionized workers grew at about the same rate as the nonfarm workforce (1.37 per cent vs. 1.39 per cent), the annual trend over the last 10 years has been for the workforce to grow faster than unionization. In fact, union density figures have slowly declined from 34.6 per cent of nonfarm workers in 1997 to 30.3 per cent in 2007.

Figures for the United States for 2007 are not yet available, but the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2006, fewer than 17 million paid workers or 13.1 per cent (including about one million agricultural workers) of a total workforce of 108 million were represented by a union. This is down from 13.7 per cent in the previous year. About 40 per cent of workers in the public sector in the United states were represented by unions in 2006, in contrast to only 8.0 per cent unionized in the private sector.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ information was based on a survey of 60,000 households conducted monthly by the U.S. Census Bureau, from which the Bureau tabulated one quarter of the total for its report.

The Canadian survey is based on self-reports from labour organizations. HRSDC received information from 175 national unions (representing close to three million workers or 66.9 per cent of total union adherents), 39 international unions (representing 1.25 million or 28.1 per cent) and 605 directly chartered or independent local organizations (with just 223,000 members or 5.0 per cent) for a total of 819 unions. Most of the unions were affiliated with a central labour congress, 71 per cent with the Canadian Labour Congress.

Thirteen unions in Canada reported more than 100,000 members. The largest are two public sector unions: the Canadian Union of Public Employees (just under 550,000 members) and the National Union of Public and General Employees (about 340,000 members). They are followed by the Steelworkers (280,000), the Canadian Auto Workers (265,000), and the United Food and Commercial Workers (245,330).

Next are other public sector unions including the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (219,000), the Public Service Alliance of Canada (170,000), the Ontario Teachers Federation (155,000), the Canadian Federation of Nurses (135,000), the Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux (117,130) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (113,500). As well, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union represents 150,000 mostly private sector employees and the Teamsters, 108,500.

Several unions reorganized or merged in 2007. For example, the Canadian Racetrack Workers Union joined the Canadian Auto Workers in February, while the Canadian Telecommunications Employees Association joined the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers in October. The fédération de la santé et des services sociaux was created from the union of two health and social services unions in Quebec in June.

Data on labour organizations can be found on-line in a searchable database called the Directory of Labour Organizations in Canada and available at www.hrsdc.gc.ca/ en/gateways/topics/dxs-gxr.shtml.

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