Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Research: Unions in rural Alberta

The Journal of Rural and Community Development has recently published a paper entitled “Understanding the absence of unionized workers in Alberta, Canada”. The paper is an open-access publication so you can download it in its entirety for free.

This paper spatially located 333,881 unionized workers in Alberta. As Table 1 suggests, a disproportionate percentage of unionized workers are found in the province’s seven urban centres. Overall, urban residents are more than twice as likely as rural residents to be union members.

Further, most unionized rural workers are found in large, public-sector bargaining units. Unionized rural workers in the private sector are typically employed by a small number of large employers with industrial-style operations, such as meat-processing plants, refineries, mills, and mines.

Interviews with trade unionists suggested three broad explanations for low union density across rural Alberta:

  1.  reluctance by rural workers to unionize, 
  2.  reluctance by unions to organize small bargaining units, and 
  3.  a regulatory structure that impeded organizing. 
The most interesting explanation centres on rural workers perceiving unionization as a less effective way to improve their lot in life than the other strategies available to them. .

-- Bob Barnetson

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