Statistics Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Warning View the most recent version.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.

Unionization 2010

By Sharanjit Uppal

Full article in PDF

Unionization rates in the first half of 2009 and 2010

Average paid employment (employees) during the first half of 2010 was 14.3 million, an increase of 171,000 over the same period one year earlier (Table 1). The number of unionized employees also increased by 64,000 (to 4.2 million). However, since union membership rose slightly more rapidly than employment, the unionization rate edged up from 29.5% in 2009 to 29.6% in 2010.

As women experienced disproportionately more gains in unionized jobs, their unionization rate rose to 30.9%. The unionization rate for men remained constant at 28.2%. As a result, the gap in the rates between men and women widened further in 2010.

As with overall job gains, gains in unionized jobs were spread over full-time and part-time jobs. Unionization among full-time workers increased to 31.1%. The unionization rate of part-time workers rose to 23.5% in 2010.

The unionization rate for permanent employees increased to 30.0%. However, it decreased to 27.3% for those in non-permanent jobs. Between 2009 and 2010, the unionization rate rose in larger firms (100 employees or more), decreased for those with 20 to 99 employees, and remained constant for firms with fewer than 20 employees.

The provincial picture was more mixed (Chart A). Six provinces recorded increases in their unionization rates, British Columbia being the one with the largest increase. In contrast, unionization decreased in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Changes in unionization rates varied across industries. Notable declines were observed in agriculture, health care and social assistance, and education. Notable increases occurred in transportation and warehousing, and public administration. (Chart B).

Changes in the unionization rate also varied across 10 major occupational groups (Chart C). Unionization declined most in health and management, and among occupations unique to processing, manufacturing and utilities. The unionization rate also declined in trades, transport and equipment operator occupations. Conversely, it rose in art, culture, recreation and sport occupations, and sales and service. Changes in the unionization rate were more modest among other major occupational categories.

Finally, the number of employees who were not union members but were covered by a collective agreement averaged 288,000 in the first half of 2010, a decrease from last year's total of 300,000.

2009 annual averages

Approximately 4.2 million employees (29.3%) belonged to a union in 2009 and another 296,000 (2.1%) were covered by a collective agreement (Table 2).

In the public sector, which consisted of government, Crown corporations, and publicly funded schools and hospitals, 70.9% of employees belonged to a union. This was more than four times the rate for the private sector (16.1%).

Approximately one-third of full-time employees belonged to a union, compared with about one-fourth of part-time employees. Also, almost 30% of permanent employees were union members, compared with about 27% of non-permanent employees.

Unionization rates also varied by age group, with 36.4% of those age 45 to 54 belonging to a union compared to 14.6% of those age 15 to 24. High unionization rates were also found among those with a university degree (34.0%) or a postsecondary certificate or diploma (33.2%); in Newfoundland and Labrador (37.4%) and in Quebec (36.3%); in educational services (67.6%), public administration (66.9%) and utilities (61.8%); and in health care occupations (61.5%). Low unionization rates were recorded in Alberta (22.9%); in agriculture (4.5%) and professional, scientific and technical services (4.2%); and in management occupations (9.1%).

Differences between the sexes

For the sixth year in a row, the unionization rate for women in 2009 surpassed the rate for men (30.6% vs. 28.1%). The gap widened by 1.2 percentage points compared with 2008.

Among men, part-time employees had a much lower rate than full-time employees (19.3% versus 29.2%). Among women, the gap was narrower (25.1% versus 32.4%) (data not shown). The unionization rate for women in the public sector (73.0%) exceeded the rate for men (67.5%), reflecting women's presence in public administration, and in teaching and health positions. However, in the private sector, only 12.7% of women were unionized, compared with 19.2% of men. The lower rate among women reflected their predominance in sales and several service occupations.

A higher-than-average rate was recorded among men with a postsecondary certificate or diploma (33.0%). For women, the highest rate was among those with a university degree (40.8%), reflecting unionization in occupations like health care and teaching.

Among those in permanent positions, the rate for men (28.6%) was lower than the rate for women (30.8%). The gap was even more predominant among those in non-permanent positions (28.9% for women versus 24.5% for men).

Average earnings and usual hours

Earnings are generally higher in unionized than non-unionized jobs. Factors other than collective bargaining provisions contribute to this. These include varying distributions of unionized employees by age, sex, job tenure, industry, occupation, firm size, and geographical location. The effects of these factors are not examined here. However, unionized workers and jobs clearly have characteristics that are associated with higher earnings. For example, unionization is higher for older workers, those with more education, those with long tenure, and those in larger workplaces. Still, a wage premium exists, which, after controlling for employee and workplace characteristics, has been estimated at 7.7% (Fang and Verma 2002).

Average hourly earnings of unionized workers were higher than those of non-unionized workers in 2009 (Table 3). This held true for both full-time employees ($25.93 versus $22.35) and part-time employees ($21.25 versus $13.71). Unionized part-time employees not only had higher hourly earnings, but they also worked more (19.2 hours versus 16.7 hours). This led to a larger gap in weekly earnings ($414.55 versus $236.19).

On average, full-time unionized women earned 95% of the amount their male counterparts earned per hour. In contrast, those working part time earned 14% more.

Wage settlements, inflation and labour disputes

The wage rate increase for collective agreement negotiated in 2009 was lower than the previous year (2.4% versus 3.2%) (Table 4). This was the fifth consecutive year in which the increase in wages surpassed the rate of inflation. For the fourth year in a row, the wage gain in the public sector exceeded the gain in the private sector (2.5% versus 1.8%). This trend continued in the first four months of 2010 whereby gains stood at 2.2% in the public sector and 1.9% in the private sector.

Annual statistics on strikes, lockouts and person–days lost are affected by several factors, including collective bargaining timetables, size of the unions involved, strike or lockout duration, and state of the economy. The number of collective agreements up for renewal in a given year determines the potential for industrial disputes. Union size and strike or lockout duration determine the number of person–days lost. The state of the economy influences the likelihood of an industrial dispute, given that one is legally possible. The proportion of estimated working time lost due to strikes and lockouts increased to 0.06% in 2009 from 0.02% in 2008.

Data sources

Information on union membership, density and coverage by various sociodemographic characteristics, including earnings, are from the Labour Force Survey. Further details can be obtained from Marc Lévesque, Labour Statistics Division, Statistics Canada, 613-951-4090. Data on strikes, lockouts and workdays lost, and those on major wage settlements were supplied by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). Further information on these statistics may be obtained from Client Services, Workplace Information Directorate, HRSDC, 1-800-567-6866.


Fang, Tony and Anil Verma. 2002. “Union wage premium.” Perspectives on Labour and Income. Vol. 3, no. 9. September. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 75-001-XIE. p. 13-19. (accessed August 17, 2010).


Sharanjit Uppal is with the Labour Statistics Division. He can be reached at 613-951-3887 or at