Union representation on a steady decline: Conference Board

Union wage premium has been steadily declining

Over the last 20 years, the number of Canadians represented by a union and covered under a collective agreement has been declining, according to data from the Conference Board of Canada.

Union coverage has fallen to 31 per cent across the country, down from 34 per cent in 1997. Wages earned by unionized employees still exceeds that of their non-union counterparts — an average of $27.36 per hour versus $22.25.

However, the union wage premium has been steadily declining to less than eight per cent in recent years.

In order for union membership to grow, the labour movement should focus on industries that have generally been obscure and hard to attract, including the services, financial and agriculture sectors, according to Karla Thorpe, director of leadership and human resources research at the Conference Board of Canada.

In her article The State of Canadian Unions — Down but Not Out, Thorpe alludes to the recent announcement from the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) unions that they will be merging in 2013, making the combined product the largest private-sector union in Canada. The move will give the new union more influence and clout and give it a better opportunity to focus its organizing efforts, Thorpe says.

Unions need to adapt to a changing labour landscape, Thorpe says, and should keep their eyes on international competition, government concessions and increasing their numbers to ensure stronger bargaining power.

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