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Union Membership

Almost four million Canadian workers belong to a union.


One In Three Canadian Workers Are Represented by A Union (2000)

Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey (2000) micro datafile.

As the chart shows, about one in three Canadian workers belongs to a union or is covered by a collective agreement. There is little difference between men and women in this regard. While historically male union membership has tended to be much higher than female membership, over the past two decades female representation in union rank and file has grown rapidly. In fact, between 1981 and 1991, female union membership in Canada grew by over 60 percent. The rising number of women represented by organized labour could shift the types of concerns and issues expressed by rank and file members.

Unionization rates differ quite substantially by age. Those under the age of 25 are much less likely to be covered by a collective agreement than older workers, reflecting the fact that young people tend to work in smaller workplaces, are employed part-time, and work in sectors (such as retail) where union density remains low.

A recent CPRN study by Graham Lowe and Grant Schellenberg, What’s A Good Job?, found that younger employees are more likely to view unions in a favourable light than their older peers. While over a third (34 percent) of those under age 25 said they’d be willing to join a union if one existed in their workplace, only one in five (19 percent) of those over age of 45 expressed such an interest. This suggests that relatively weak union representation amongst younger workers is not the result of a lack of interest, but is likely the result of other factors such as higher turnover rates, shorter job tenure and more common part-time work status.


By Province

Union Density Highest In Newfoundland and Quebec  

Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey (2000) micro datafile.

Union density rates also vary quite markedly by province. Rates are lowest in Alberta and Ontario and highest in Quebec and Newfoundland. These provincial differences may reflect various factors such as: the types of industry that are common within the province; provincial laws that govern and regulate the labour market; the provincial historical legacy of unions; and public attitudes towards organized labour.


By Industry

Union Membership Concentrated in Public Sector Jobs

Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey (2000) micro datafile.

There are also notable differences in union density by industry. A majority of employees in public administration (70 percent), education, health care and social services (62 percent) are represented by a union. All in all, the education and health sectors represent roughly one third of all union members in Canada. Manufacturing has also traditionally been highly unionized, but in recent years that sector has experienced both absolute and relative declines in union membership. Among the least unionized sectors are retail trade (16 percent), financial services (9 percent) and the food and accommodation industry (9 percent).


By Firm Size

Unionization Most Common In Large Organizations 

Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey (2000) micro datafile.


Union membership varies considerably by firm size. Unionization remains relatively uncommon in firms employing less than 20 employees. In such firms, a mere 7 percent of employees are represented by a union. Union membership is more common in mid-sized firms, where one in five employees are represented by a union. Unionization is most common in larger workplaces, with over a third of those employees in firms of 100-499 employees, and almost half of those in firms of over 500, being represented by a union. Unions have historically experienced difficulties in trying to organize small workplaces, possibly because of the collegial relationships that often characterize small workplaces and the logistical difficulties in organizing a large number of small worksites.

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