Unionization 2011

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By Sharanjit Uppal

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Unionization rates in the first half of 2010 and 2011

Average paid employment (employees) during the first half of 2011 was 14.5 million, an increase of 249,000 over the same period a year earlier (Table 1). The number of unionized employees also increased, by 80,000 (to 4.3 million). However, since union membership rose slightly more rapidly than employment, the unionization rate edged up from 29.6% in 2010 to 29.7% in 2011.

As women experienced disproportionately more gains in unionized jobs, their unionization rate rose to 31.1%. 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 2011.

Gains in unionized jobs were mainly part-time jobs. Unionization among full-time workers remained steady at 31.1%, while the unionization rate of part-time workers rose to 23.6% in 2011.

The unionization rate for permanent employees decreased to 29.9%. However, it increased to 28.0% for those in non-permanent jobs. Between 2010 and 2011, the unionization rate slipped in large (100 employees or more) and small (fewer than 20 employees) firms, but rose slightly for those with 20 to 99 employees.

The provincial picture was mixed (Chart A). Five provinces recorded increases in their unionization rate, Nova Scotia recording the largest increase. By contrast, unionization decreased in Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and Alberta.

Changes in unionization rates varied across industries. Notable declines were observed in public administration and information and cultural industries. Notable increases occurred in agriculture, and in utilities. (Chart B).

Changes in the unionization rate also varied across 10 major occupational groups (Chart C). Unionization declined most in sales and services, and in natural and applied sicences. Conversely, it rose notably in occupations unique to processing, manufacturing and utilities. 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 295,000 in the first half of 2011, an increase from last year's total of 288,000.

2010 annual averages

Approximately 4.2 million employees (29.5%) belonged to a union in 2010 and another 293,000 (2.0%) were covered by a collective agreement (Table 2).

The public sector, which consisted of government, Crown corporations, and publicly funded schools or hospitals, had 71.4% of its employees belonging to a union. This was more than four times the rate for the private sector (16.0%).

Approximately one-third of full-time employees belonged to a union, compared with just under one-fourth of the part-time. Also, 30.0% of permanent employees were union members, compared with 26.2% of the non-permanent.

Unionization rates also varied by age group with 36.3% of those aged 45 to 54 being members of a union as compared to 14.3% of those aged 15 to 24. High unionization rates were also found among those with a university degree (33.7%) or a post-secondary certificate or diploma (33.2%); in Newfoundland and Labrador (37.3%) and in Quebec (36.0%); as well as in public administration (68.7%), educational services (66.7%), and utilities (64.7%); and health care occupations (61.3%). Low unionization rates were recorded in Alberta (22.6%); in agriculture (2.8%) and professional, scientific and technical services (4.5%); and in wholesale occupations.(5.2%).

Differences between the sexes

For the seventh year in a row, the unionization rate for women in 2010 surpassed that of men (30.8% versus 28.2%). The gap widened slightly by 0.1 percentage points, as compared to that in 2009.

Among men, part-time employees had a much lower rate than full-time employees (18.3% versus 29.5%). Among women, the gap was narrower (25.1% versus 32.8%) (data not shown). The unionization rate for women in the public sector (73.2%) exceeded that of men (68.5%), reflecting women's presence in public administration, and in teaching and health positions. However, in the private sector, only 12.5% of women were unionized, compared with 19.0% 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 post-secondary certificate or diploma (33.0%). For women, the highest rate was among those with a university degree (39.5%), reflecting unionization in occupations like health care and teaching.

Among those in permanent positions, the rate for men (28.7%) was lower than that for women (31.3%). The gap was slightly more among those in non-permanent positions, (27.6% for women versus 24.8% for men).

Average earnings and usual hours

Earnings are generally higher in unionized as compared to 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 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 2010 (Table 3). This held true for both full-time employees ($26.72 versus $22.71) and part-timers ($22.09 versus $14.02). Unionized part-time employees not only had higher hourly earnings, but they also worked more (19.1 hours versus 16.7). This led to a larger gap in weekly earnings ($427.26 versus $240.39).

On average, full-time unionized women earned 95% as much per hour as their male counterparts. In contrast, those working part-time earned 8% more.

Wage settlements, inflation and labour disputes

The wage rate increase in 2010 was lower as compared to that in the previous year (1.8% versus 2.4%) (Table 4). In 2010 the increase in wages was equal to the rate of inflation. For the first time in 5 years, the wage gain in the private sector exceeded that in the public sector (2.1% versus 1.6%). This trend continued in the first three months of 2011 whereby the gains stood at 2.2% in the private sector and 1.2% in the public 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 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 decreased to 0.01% in 2011 from 0.03% in 2010.

Data sources

Information on union membership, density and coverage by various socio-demographic characteristics, including earnings, are from the Labour Force Survey. Further details can be obtained from Marc Lévesque, Labour Statistics Division, Statistics Canada at 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 at 1-800-567-6866.


Fang, Tony. and Verma, Anil. 2002. "Union wage premium." Perspectives on Labour and Income. Vol. 3, no. 9. September. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 75-001-X. p. 13-19. (accessed September 19, 2011).


Sharanjit Uppal is with the Labour Statistics Division. He can be reached at 613-951-3887 or at perspectives@statcan.gc.ca.