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August 2004
Vol. 5, no. 8

Perspectives on Labour and Income

The union movement in transition
Ernest B. Akyeampong

  • Union ranks rose from 2.8 million in 1977 to just over 4 million in 2003. However, this 43% growth did not keep pace with employment increases, resulting in a unionization rate (or density) that changed little.
  • The biggest and most profound transformation in union membership in recent decades lies in the mix of men and women. From a mere 12% in 1977, the share of women rose steadily to nearly half (48%) in 2003.
  • Union membership declined in the goods sector and increased in the service sector. In terms of density, the gap between the goods sector and the service sector in 1987 (40% versus 31%) had almost disappeared by 2003 (31% versus 30%).
  • Between 1997 and 2003, union density increased in the already heavily unionized public sector (2.3 percentage points), but fell slightly in the private sector. By industry, the biggest gains occurred in public administration and construction.
  • During this same period, union density rose in smaller workplaces, and among part-time workers, non-permanent employees, and persons with short job tenure. The rate fell in larger workplaces, and among full-time workers, persons in permanent jobs, and those with tenure longer than five years.

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Ernest B. Akyeampong is with the Labour and Household Surveys Analysis Division. He can be reached at (613) 951-4624 or

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