Labor Unions in Canada, organizations that represent Canadian workers in their negotiations with employers. Labor unions engage in collective bargaining with employers to determine issues such as wages, the terms and conditions of work, and worker security. Unions also engage in political activities on behalf of workers and have historically had ties to political parties, such as the New Democratic Party (NDP). At the beginning of the 21st century nearly 4.2 million workers in Canada belonged to a union, or about one quarter of the country’s workforce.
|II||TYPES OF UNIONS|
Unionized workers in Canada include industrial and office workers and public employees in government administration, school systems, and hospitals. They also include engineers, professors, nurses, teachers, and other professional employees. Employees are less likely to be unionized in private service-sector firms such as retail stores, restaurants, banks, and insurance companies, because employers in those areas have aggressively opposed unions.
Unions have traditionally been divided into craft unions and industrial unions. Craft unions, which were the earliest form of union, are formed by skilled workers in a trade such as printing or carpentry, but they typically exclude unskilled workers. Industrial unions, by contrast, include all workers, skilled as well as unskilled, in a single industry such as automobile or steel manufacturing.
In the late 20th century other types of unions arose in Canada. Public-sector unions emerged in the 1960s after the government passed laws allowing government workers to organize (to form groups to protect their rights and interests) and bargain collectively. In the 1980s and 1990s general unions, which represent workers from widely varying industries or occupations, became more common as unions broadened their membership to include people working in jobs outside the union’s original industry. For example, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) expanded to represent workers in the fishing and airline industries, among other areas. In the private service sector, the CAW organized employees at the first unionized McDonald's restaurant in North America.
|III||THE ROLE OF UNIONS|
Unions help workers negotiate the terms and conditions of their work with their employers. Before unions existed, workers often labored for low wages and long hours in unsafe or unhealthy workplaces. They could be fired without cause at the whim of an employer and thus had no job security. In unionized jobs, employees work under conditions negotiated through the process of collective bargaining, in which the union negotiates with the employers on behalf of the employees. The collective agreements they negotiate include clauses that outline job classifications, rates of pay, workday length, overtime rates, workers’ health and safety measures, and work distribution. Such agreements also include grievance and arbitration procedures that are designed to settle conflicts that arise during the term of a contract.
Unions also negotiate with employers to determine the level of union security (the extent to which workers are required to join or fund the union once it is established). Types of union security arrangements include the closed-shop agreement, in which union membership is a condition of employment in a workplace, and the union-shop agreement, in which a person does not have to be a union member to be hired but must join the union after becoming employed. A third form is known as the Rand Formula, named after Canadian Supreme Court justice Ivan Rand, who created it when he arbitrated a strike against the Ford Motor Company in Windsor, Ontario, in 1945. The Rand Formula does not require all workers to join the union, but it requires them to pay union dues because they receive the benefit of the union’s collective bargaining. The formula also allows the employer to automatically deduct union dues from workers’ paychecks.
Collective agreements last for a set period of time, after which they are renegotiated. If the employers and unions cannot reach a collective agreement, either party can apply pressure to the other through a work stoppage. A work stoppage by workers is called a strike, while a stoppage created by an employer is known as a lockout. Lockouts are less common than strikes. Often just the threat of a work stoppage is enough to push the two sides to an agreement. However, before a legal work stoppage can occur in Canada, the parties must apply for conciliation. Under conciliation, a government-appointed mediator tries to help the two sides reach an agreement. If they do not, a cooling-off period of about ten days follows, in which employees remain at work and the parties may continue to negotiate. Only after the cooling-off period ends can the employers or employees begin a legal work stoppage.
In around 90 percent of negotiations, the parties reach collective agreements without a work stoppage. Most workers in Canada have the right to strike, except firefighters, police, some hospital workers, and others who perform essential services. Those employees normally have another recourse to settle disputes such as binding arbitration. In binding arbitration, an outside arbitrator hears the arguments of the parties involved and issues a decision that the parties must accept.
Unions in Canada have also taken an active role in politics. Much of this political work is done by central labor bodies, organizations formed by groups of unions to represent the general concerns of unions and workers. Central labor bodies, the most prominent of which is the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), lobby for legislation that is in the interest of their members and other workers. They have supported legislation setting workers' compensation and minimum standards for working conditions. Unions have also pushed for social welfare measures, including universal medical coverage, unemployment insurance, and health and safety legislation. In addition, unions have supported broader community issues, including human rights, pay equity for women, and environmental standards.
Historically the Canadian labor movement has affiliated itself with socialist and social-democratic political parties outside the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, the two mainstream parties. In 1961 the CLC was instrumental in founding the New Democratic Party (NDP), which has remained an influential party in Canadian politics. A substantial minority of union members follow organized labor's lead in supporting the NDP, but the majority of members more often support the mainstream parties.
Labor organizations exist on a variety of levels, from local workplaces to international organizations. Most local unions belong to national or international unions that are organized around an industry or an occupation—for example, the United Steelworkers of America or the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Unions also belong to central labor bodies such as the CLC. Central labor bodies are not unions themselves because they do not directly represent workers in negotiations with employers. Rather, they represent the general interests of workers and unions, particularly in the area of public policy.
At the local level, workers in a particular workplace can join a local union. Before a union can represent a group of employees at a workplace, it must apply to the provincial labor board, a government agency, to be certified as the bargaining representative. To determine whether the union should be certified, the labor board either counts union membership cards or holds a representation vote to determine if the union has the support of the majority of workers at the workplace. If a majority supports the union, the board determines the appropriate bargaining unit (the group of workers that is represented in a specific collective agreement) at the workplace and certifies the union. Once certified, a local union seeks to negotiate a collective agreement with the employer to determine the terms and conditions of employment.
Workers in local unions elect local executives to supervise the work of the union. They also elect officials known as shop stewards to handle grievances that arise on the job. Before collective bargaining begins, workers elect a bargaining committee. The bargaining committee determines the workers’ demands and strategy in negotiations with the employer.
Local unions usually are part of national or international unions. These national and international unions employ a staff for organizing workers at the local level, doing research, educating union members about labor and political matters, and working with local union leaders. Unions hold regular conventions of delegates elected from local unions to discuss policies and hold elections for union leadership positions. Unions are governed by constitutions developed and voted on by the membership.
Unions are democratic organizations. Unionized workers elect their local officials in secret ballot elections. They elect their national and international union officials in different ways depending on a union’s constitution. Some unions, such as the United Steelworkers of America, which has a large number of Canadian members, hold referendum votes of the membership to elect district directors and national and international union officers. Other unions elect delegates from each local union to attend an annual convention, where the delegates elect district and national or international union officials by secret ballot.
Most Canadian unions are affiliated with central labor bodies. Central labor bodies include national congresses, local labor councils, and provincial federations of labor that represent workers’ interests at the municipal and provincial levels. These organizations lobby governments for legislation that benefits both organized and unorganized workers. They represent the labor movement in government or societal institutions and in international labor organizations. The largest central labor body in Canada is the CLC, a national congress that represents about 3 million workers. The largest central labor body outside of the CLC is the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (Confederation of National Trade Unions), an organization that includes a significant number of unions in Québec.
Labor law establishes the rules that govern labor relations between employers and employees. In the 19th century, most labor law in Canada restricted, and even outlawed, worker organization and strikes. The government often considered organizations of employees to be illegal conspiracies that restrained trade. By the end of the 19th century, however, the government no longer legally restricted most trade union activity. In 1900 the federal Conciliation Act established voluntary dispute-settlement mechanisms for employees and employers. The Industrial Disputes Investigation Act (1907) included compulsory conciliation, in which workers and employers were required to meet with a mediator prior to a legal work stoppage. Compulsory conciliation became a distinctive feature of the Canadian industrial relations system.
During World War II (1939-1945) the federal government, after much pressure from labor and the public, passed an emergency wartime measure, known as PC 1003 (1944), that established Canada’s first wide-ranging national labor code. This code was replaced after the war with similar, more permanent legislation: the federal Industrial Relations and Disputes Investigation Act (1948) and equivalent laws in the provinces. These acts created Canada’s modern industrial relations system. As PC 1003 had done during the war, these acts supported collective bargaining and provided for the certification of unions with majority support in a workplace. The acts also outlawed unfair labor practices, including employer discrimination against employees for union activity, and established labor boards to administer the legislation.
This legal structure, which remains the basis for labor relations in Canada, was modeled on the National Labor Relations Act (1935) in the United States, but the Canadian law is significantly different. Canadian law emphasizes compulsory conciliation as a means of settling labor disputes and outlaws strikes during the term of a collective agreement. Canadian legislation provides a certification process for local unions that is faster than the process in the United States. Canadian law also goes further in recognizing the legitimacy of union security arrangements that require all workers in a unionized workplace to join the union or at least to pay union dues. In many areas of the United States, right-to-work laws prohibit such union security arrangements. See also Labor Unions in the United States.
In the 1960s legislation extended and adapted collective bargaining rights to include public-sector employees. In 1967 the Public Service Staff Relations Act created a new collective bargaining structure for federal employees. Provinces passed similar legislation concerning their employees. By the mid-1970s the country had firmly established public-sector collective bargaining and the right for public-sector employees either to strike or to seek binding arbitration. Some provinces recognized the right of their government employees to bargain collectively but not to strike. Others merely limited the right to strike for employees engaged in essential services, although which services are essential is sometimes debated. In rare instances governments have passed back-to-work legislation in public-sector disputes. Back-to-work legislation temporarily suspends the right of certain government workers to strike.
The jobs of striking workers are protected by law, and normally they must be reinstated at the end of a dispute. There are regulations that govern conduct during a strike, such as prohibitions in Québec and British Columbia on the use of replacement workers to break strikes. Some provinces outlaw the use of professional strikebreaking agencies, which help employers undermine strikes with tactics such as hiring replacement workers, intimidating strikers, and bringing charges against picketers. Such laws and regulations can protect workers. They also protect the public interest by contributing to a relatively high level of industrial peace. They encourage employers and workers in Canada to settle issues through legal processes rather than through confrontation.
|A||Unions in the 19th Century|
The first workers to unionize in Canada were skilled artisans, such as printers and carpenters, whose skills were in demand. Their skills gave them bargaining power, and beginning in the mid-19th century they were able to establish craft unions to protect their jobs and the standards of their work. At the same time, the introduction of mechanized processes into these trades threatened the position of skilled workers. Mechanized systems broke down production into specialized tasks, which could be performed by less skilled and lower paid workers, including women and children.
In response, the craft unions continued to try to control the labor supply in their trades. If they could not prevent technological change, at least they could regulate who would work on the new machines by limiting access and advancement in their trades. The craft unions introduced training processes, systems of apprenticeship, and work rules. In 1886 the American Federation of Labor (AFL), an international alliance of craft unions, was founded and stimulated organization among skilled tradespeople in the United States and Canada. See also American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
At the same time, the first industrial unions formed in Canada. The most significant of these unions was the Knights of Labor, which originated in 1869 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and spread into Canada beginning in 1881. The Knights focused on organizing the unskilled workers who were excluded by the craft unions. The Knights organized all workers in an industry, regardless of their training or position. The Knights also tended to include more women and black workers than other unions at the time, although they were not open to immigrant Chinese workers and fought against their use by employers.
Employers and craft unions opposed the Knights of Labor, and the Knights declined in power after the 1880s. The Knights helped establish the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada (TLC) in 1886, the first central labor body to represent Canadian workers by advocating legislative and political reform. The TLC existed until 1956 when it helped form the Canadian Labour Congress.
Around the turn of the century, the federal and provincial governments passed legislation that set labor standards to prevent employers from exploiting workers. This legislation limited work hours and established minimum wages for women and eventually limited child labor. It also instituted factory inspections and workers' compensation for accidents on the job.
|B||Radicalism and World War I|
In 1905 the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an international industrial union, was founded in Chicago, Illinois. The IWW espoused one union of all workers and organized among itinerant unskilled laborers, who were often poor immigrants working in resource industries such as logging and mining. In Canada the IWW organized primarily in the West. Its philosophy was revolutionary syndicalism, a belief that after workers became organized, they would initiate a general strike, defeating capitalism and replacing it with a society run by workers. The Wobblies (as the members of the IWW were called) opposed the limited 'bread and butter unionism' of the AFL, which was more concerned with wages than with revolution. The IWW sarcastically dubbed the AFL the 'American Separation of Labor' because it excluded unskilled workers.
In 1918 the Canadian government banned the IWW because political leaders feared it was too radical. The one-union idea was then taken up in 1919 by some western Canadian workers who formed an organization called the One Big Union (OBU). The OBU advocated industrial unionism, socialism, and more attention to the needs of western workers and their leaders.
During World War I (1914-1918), union membership grew and industrial conflict increased. Many labor leaders became disenchanted with the federal government when it ordered conscription into the armed forces in 1917. The labor leaders feared that conscription would require a greater sacrifice by the working class, while wartime industries accumulated large profits. In the following year the government instituted war measures that recognized the right to bargain collectively but not the right to strike. The measures also banned many labor newspapers and immigrant workers' organizations. The government’s actions, along with high inflation that eroded the spending power of workers’ wages, contributed to labor unrest.
The unrest climaxed in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, which began when local metal workers in Winnipeg, Manitoba, went on strike. Winnipeg’s other labor organizations shut down the city’s factories, stores, and government services in support of the strike. Government leaders feared the paralyzing tactics of the general strike. They also feared the radical labor movement, which they associated with the Russian Revolution of 1917. The OBU, which was formed in Calgary, Alberta, during the strike, exemplified that radicalism—some of its leaders called for socialist revolution. The government sided with the Winnipeg employers to defeat the strike forcibly and arrest its leaders. The result was a setback for labor, and the OBU rapidly declined, but many workers became more politically active after the general strike failed. Following the strike, they began to elect socialist, prolabor representatives at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government, particularly in the western provinces.
In Québec in the early part of the 20th century, most unionized workers joined the national and international unions in Canada. However, unions affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church began to attract a significant minority of Québec workers during World War I. In 1921 a group of these unions formed the Canadian Catholic Confederation of Labour (CCCL). In their early years the Catholic unions reflected the conservatism of Church doctrines that opposed socialism and materialism in unions and argued for greater cooperation between workers and management.
|C||Great Depression and World War II|
Union membership increased during the Great Depression. The Communist Party of Canada established the Workers' Unity League (WUL) in 1929 to organize workers, in competition with the established unions. The WUL had significant success, particularly among miners and lumber workers. In 1935 the party disbanded the WUL because the international Communist movement had turned toward more cooperation with other labor movements. In the United States industrial unions associated with the new Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which was founded as the Committee for Industrial Organization in 1935, won vast job improvements in collective agreements in major industries, such as steel and automobiles. Their success led Canadian workers to join the CIO. In 1932 the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was founded. The CCF was a political party that aimed to represent farmers and workers, and by the 1940s it had union affiliates.
The labor movement increased its organizing in Canada during World War II (1939-1945). During the war, the national economy had full employment, which raised labor’s bargaining power. By the end of the war, Canadians had organized extensive portions of the economy's industrial sector and created the Canadian Congress of Labour (CCL) for industrial unions. The CCL was a central labor body that rivaled the TLC, the older craft union congress. In 1943 the CCL endorsed the CCF as 'the political arm of labor.' In 1944 the CCF was elected as the provincial government in Saskatchewan.
During and after the war, the federal and provincial governments passed labor laws that created the modern industrial relations system in Canada. The wartime measure PC 1003 and its postwar replacement, the Industrial Relations and Disputes Investigation Act, created a system based on union recognition and collective bargaining.
As the Cold War began in the late 1940s, the TLC and the CCL actively purged themselves of unions and union leaders that had ties to the Communist Party. The two congresses began to unite, and their differences over political involvement and the issue of craft versus industrial unionism faded. In 1956 the TLC and the CCL merged to form the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). In the era of postwar prosperity, the labor movement continued to grow, and unions won wage increases and extensive benefits packages for their members. The CLC and the CCF helped to found the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1961.
|D||Postwar Union Movement in Québec|
The Catholic union movement in Québec had been hurt by the Great Depression and its competition with the industrial unions during the war. However, during the 1949 Asbestos Strike in the Eastern Townships of Québec, workers at asbestos mines clashed with police, and the Catholic unions represented by the CCCL became more aggressive in their confrontations with employers and the government. In the 1950s the CCCL distanced itself from the Catholic Church, and in 1960 the group transformed itself into the secular Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN).
In the 1960s and 1970s the CSN embraced French Canadian nationalism. In the early 1970s workers in Québec agitated for more labor rights, and the major Québec unions joined in an alliance known as the Common Front for strikes and negotiations. In 1972 the Common Front led a general strike by public employees that defied court injunctions against strikes by hospital and hydroelectric workers and led to the jailing of many union leaders.
|E||The 1960s to the Present|
During the 1960s, public-sector employees were given the right to organize, and they embraced collective bargaining. In Québec, during the reforms of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, the CSN organized public employees, assisted by a new Québec Labour Code (1964). The code granted public employees collective bargaining rights and the right to strike. The rest of Canada soon followed. After a strike in 1965 by postal workers across the country, the government passed new federal legislation that permitted collective bargaining and strikes for most public employees. Public workers formed labor unions, which included the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). Both were affiliated with the CLC. Public employees quickly became the most heavily unionized workers in Canada as they attempted to bring their wages, working conditions, and benefits to the level of unionized private sector workers. By 1992, 79 percent of workers in public administration were members of unions, and CUPE was Canada’s largest union.
Alongside this shift in union membership, women became increasingly involved in unions. As more women began to participate in the labor force in the 1960s, they joined unions at a faster rate than men. Women influenced union bargaining issues with their desires for equal pay, child care, and maternity leave, and they assumed union leadership positions. In 1985 Shirley Carr, a former municipal employee in Niagara Falls, Ontario, became the first woman president of the CLC. By 1992 women made up about 47 percent of total union members, compared to 16 percent in the mid-1960s.
The 1960s and 1970s also saw a shift of Canadian workers from international unions based in the United States to national, Canadian-based unions. Before that time the national unions that had arisen in Canada were often small, short-lived (except in Québec), and short of resources. Canadian union members previously found that the benefits of belonging to a large international union with substantial resources outweighed their nationalistic tendencies, particularly as the American and Canadian economies became highly integrated. However, in the 1960s the rise of public-sector unions, which were all national unions, started the shift away from international unions. Beginning in the 1970s, Canadian districts within international unions sought and mostly won greater autonomy within the international unions in order to accommodate the differences between the two countries.
During the economic recession of the 1980s, some Canadian unionists refused to follow the lead of American unions and adopt bargaining that granted wage cuts and other concessions to employers. In the automobile industry, this conflict resulted in the Canadian section of the United Automobile Workers of America, an international union based in the United States, breaking away to form the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW). The separation allowed the CAW to devote itself to more aggressive organizing and political activism.
In the 1980s and 1990s rates of union membership remained relatively high in Canada, while rates in the United States declined. Unions in both countries faced many of the same conditions, including conservative governments, hostile employers, plant shutdowns, and free trade agreements. Unions in Canada, though, were more aggressive about organizing and faced a more tolerant legal environment than unions in the United States. Canadian unions actively supported the independent politics of the NDP, stronger labor legislation, and social reform measures.
Canadian unions, like U.S. unions, opposed the Canadian-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (1989) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, 1994), which removed barriers to trade between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. In the unions’ view, the new trade arrangements did not take account of workers' needs and rights, potentially weakened Canadian social welfare measures and cultural institutions, and made no provision for environmental standards. Since the adoption of NAFTA, labor has faced plant shutdowns, employee layoffs through corporate downsizing, and the contracting of work out to foreign and nonunion employers. In response, labor unions have negotiated severance packages and job retraining for laid-off employees and aided the employee purchase of companies in industries such as timber processing and steel.
The Canadian economic environment was not friendly to labor in the 1990s, particularly as provincial and federal governments introduced budget cuts that threatened public-sector workers. Nevertheless, the labor movement, with difficulty, held its own and sought to grow. Unions began to organize aggressively in the less-unionized private service sector, including restaurants, retail stores, and banks. They also continued to be politically active.