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Unionization rates in first half of 2007 and 2008

Average paid employment (employees) during the first half of 2008 was 14.4 million, an increase of 317,000 over the same period a year earlier (Table 1 - Union membership and coverage by selected characteristics). On the other hand, union membership increased by only 53,000 to 4.2 million. With union membership growing less rapidly than employment, the unionization rate declined slightly from 29.7% to 29.4%.

Unionization rates remained unchanged for women and declined slightly for men. At 30.0%, the women's rate in 2008 continued to exceed the rate for men (28.7%).

Unionization declined slightly in both the public and private sectors, to 71.0% and 16.3% respectively.

Five provinces recorded increases: Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The five remaining provinces saw decreases (Chart A - Newfoundland and Labrador, the most unionized province; Alberta, the least).

Unionization rates fell from 31.2% to 30.9% for full-time workers and from 22.9% to 22.7% for part-time workers.

The unionization rate for permanent employees declined to 29.7%, but increased to 26.8% for those in non-permanent jobs. The rate fell in workplaces with fewer than 20 employees, and in those with 100 to 500. On the other hand, it increased in those with more than 500 employees and those with 20 to 99 employees.

Unionization rose in 5 of the 16 major industry groups: mining, oil and gas; public support services; business, building and other services; educational services; and public administration. It remained stable for agriculture, while all other industry groups registered declines (Chart B - The highest unionization rates were in public sector industries).

Among the 10 major occupational groups, unionization rose in 4: art, culture, recreation and sport; primary sector occupations; those unique to processing, manufacturing and public utilities; and sales and service. Management remained stable, while the rest showed declines (Chart C - Unionization in community service occupations far outpaced that in others).

The number of employees who were not union members but were covered by a collective agreement averaged 301,000 in the first half of 2008, down slightly from 308,000 a year earlier (data not shown—see Akyeampong 2000 for a description of this group).

2007 annual averages

Approximately 4.2 million employees (29.3%) (Table 2 - Union membership, 2007) belonged to a union in 2007 and some 316,000 (2.2%) were covered by a collective agreement.

Those in the public sector—government, Crown corporations, and publicly funded schools or hospitals—were over four times more likely than their private-sector counterparts to belong to a union (71.0% versus 16.8%).

Almost one in three full-time employees belonged to a union, compared with about one in four part-time. Also, almost one in three permanent employees were union members, compared with one in four non-permanent.

High unionization rates were found among employees aged 45 to 54 (38.2%); among those with a university degree (33.6%) or a post­ secondary certificate or diploma (33.5%); in Newfoundland and Labrador (36.0%) and in Quebec (35.9%); as well as in educational services (66.9%), public administration (67.5%), and utilities (65.7%); and in health care occupations (61.9%). Low unionization rates were recorded among 15 to 24 year-olds (13.2%); in Alberta (21.8%); in agriculture (4.0%) and professional, scientific and technical services (4.3%); and in management occupations (8.3%).

Differences between the sexes

For the fourth year in a row, the unionization rate for women in 2007 surpassed that of men (29.8% versus 28.8%).

Among men, part-time employees had a much lower rate than full-time employees (18.0% versus 30.1%). Among women, the gap was narrower (24.8% versus 31.5%) (data not shown). The unionization rate for women in the public sector (72.8%) exceeded that of men (68.2%), reflecting women's presence in public administration, and in teaching and health positions. However, in the private sector, only 12.5% were unionized, compared with 20.9% 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 (33.9%). For women, the highest rate was among those with a university degree (40.0%), reflecting unionization in occupations like health care and teaching.

Among those in permanent positions, the rate for men (29.6%) was similar to that for women (30.2%). Among those in non-permanent positions, women were more unionized than men (27.2% versus 23.2%).

Average earnings and usual hours

Unionized jobs generally provide higher earnings than non-unionized jobs (Table 3 - Average earnings and usual hours by union and job status, 2007). However, factors other than collective bargaining provisions also play a role. These include varying distributions of unionized employees by age, sex, job tenure, industry, occupation, firm size, and geographical location.

Although the effects of these factors have not been examined, it is clear that unionized workers and jobs tend to have certain characteristics that are associated with higher earnings. For example, the unionization rate is higher among older workers, those with higher education, those with long tenure, and those in larger workplaces. Although differences in earnings and non-wage benefits cannot be attributed solely to union status (Akyeampong 2002), the union wage premium (after adjusting for employee and workplace characteristics) has been estimated at 7.7% (Fang and Verma 2002).

In 2007, the average hourly earnings of unionized workers were higher than those of non-unionized workers. This held true for both full-time ($24.15 versus $20.55) and part-time ($19.99 versus $12.56) employees.

In addition to having higher hourly earnings, unionized part-time employees generally worked more hours per week than their non-unionized counterparts (19.3 versus 16.9). As a result, their average weekly earnings were much higher ($391.14 versus $216.43) (data not shown).

On average, unionized women working full time received about 94% as much in hourly earnings as their male counterparts. In contrast, unionized women working part time earned 14% more.

Wage settlements, inflation and labour disputes

Wage gains of 3.3% in 2007 significantly surpassed the rate of inflation (1.9%) (Table 4 - Major wage settlements, inflation and labour disputes). This reflects the third consecutive year in which wage increases were greater than the rate of inflation, although the differences in the two preceding years were not significant. The 2007 trend continued during the first four months of 2008, with wage gains averaging 3.4%, while inflation stood at 1.8%.

Wage gains in the public sector in 2007 (3.4%) surpassed those in the private sector (3.1%). The gap reversed and widened in the first four months of 2008. The corresponding gains were 3.2% and 4.0%.

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 estimated number of person-days lost through strikes and lockouts dropped to less than a fifth, from 4.1 million in 2005 to 791,000 in 2006. In 2007, however, it rebounded sharply, reaching 1.8 million.

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 Social Development Canada (HRSDC). Further information on these statistics may be obtained from Client services, Workplace Information Directorate, HRSDC at 1-800-567-6866.