The Changing Face of Unionization

A recent Globe and Mail article (In Canada The Fading Union Movement Is A Male Phenomenon, Tavia Grant, Tuesday, November 26th, 2013) states that Canada’s unionization rates over recent decades is declining and there is a dwindling proportion of men in the labour movement.  What is not clear from the article, however, is whether this is a preference of the workforce or a fact of our economy and/or demographics.

Having worked in (nearly) all industry sectors, I would hazard a (educated) guess that unionization is down (from 42% in 1981 to 29% in 2013) specifically with males due to the recent downsizing of traditionally male dominated industry sectors, namely manufacturing, than a change in any labour preference.

As per younger employees not unionizing as often I say “wait for it”!  We know that as workers mature their attitudes change significantly.  As employees age they increasingly take on life’s responsibilities, such as mortgages, families and car payments, and they tend to settle down including committing more to workplace responsibilities and long term financial security.  Unions and the unions’ ability to secure higher wages, benefits and pensions have a role in employee financial security.

We also cannot negate the change in our economy and lower numbers of unionization; specifically industry sectors that are prevalent today but were not in 1981.  Take the IT industry sector for example.  The IT industry, a significant industry sector onto itself, and which is notoriously not unionized, was not a prevalent industry sector in 1981.

The article also talked to rising unionization in administrative roles and the education and health industry sectors.  This should come as no surprise given these areas have been, or are increasingly, female dominated.  What is somewhat surprising, however, is unionization rising in management roles; and I say this mostly because of the technical difficulties to organize management under the Trade Union Acts across the provinces.  I would quantify my comments as being “somewhat surprisingly” only because I suspect that the historic abuse of management required number of hours of work per week versus the working populations increasing want for more life – work balance.

As per the service sector, I wouldn’t expect unionization to happen fast and furiously here.  Let’s be serious, unions typically make their money as a % of wages earned and the service sector has lower wages compared to most other industry sectors.  Having said this, I do predict that the service sector will continue to slow and steady unionize given the shrinking higher-paid manufacturing sector, employees need for financial security and the need for unions to supplement their income with non-traditional industry sectors.

What do you think?  I look forward to read your comments.

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