On the job: Why unions matter

The Parkland Institute is releasing a report on why unions matter. I contributed to the report, which was spurred by Alberta government restrictions on collective bargaining and anti-union labour law.

Perhaps not surprising for readers of this blog, we found that labour unions play an important role in improving wages, improving workplace safety, and reducing inequality – for all workers, not just those lucky enough to be covered by a collective agreement.

Canada’s richest province also has the highest level of inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient – and as of 2011 that measure was at its highest point in Alberta since Statistics Canada began measuring it 36 years ago.

Growing inequality in Alberta illustrates the problem with the “we just need to grow the economy, and everything will be fine” approach. Between 1982 and 2011 the real average wage for the bottom 99% increased from $41,749 to $48,800 – only 13%. For the top 1% the increase was 93%. We found a strong correlation between falling unionization rates and growing income inequality in Alberta. The benefits of the boom have not been shared with workers.

While there are differences between the Alberta context and other provincial jurisdictions, many of the broad findings are applicable across Canada. A healthy union movement insists on sharing the wealth we create.

Update: Press Progress provides a summary of the report’s findings on inequality and union density.


  • Off topic, but do the folk at Progessive Economics Forum realize that the “contact us” facility in the left hand column does not work? At least sending an email to the relevant address elicits no response.

  • This is an excellent piece or research, very innovative and well documented.

    Currently working on a small project with Parkland myself- I hope we can meet this level of research- great work Angella and Parkland.

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