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Making union membership the default option in Canada: Would it be supported and effective?

Making union membership the default option in Canada: Would it be supported and effective?

Mark Harcourt, Gregor Gall and Margaret Wilson

Volume : 77-4 (2022)


A recent study conducted in Canada has found that a majority of respondents were in support of making union membership the default option for workers, regardless of gender, age, and income level. The study showed that nearly three-quarters of union members were in favor of union membership by default and would remain in the union. However, approximately 25% of union members expressed reluctance towards this option, citing concerns over losing the security and predictability of the current model or being obligated to join through a closed shop clause.

Interestingly, the study also found that nearly half of non-unionized workers supported union membership by default, but only 35% of them would stay in the union if given the option to opt-out. This apparent discrepancy could be due to non-unionized workers supporting the policy for its facilitation of freedom of association, without necessarily having a desire to belong to a union themselves. Fear of management disapproval or retaliation could also be contributing factors.

The authors of the study suggest that British Columbia and Quebec would be the most receptive provinces to the policy of union membership by default. Both provinces have a history of pro-union legislation and have been governed by social democratic parties that are sympathetic to unions. The study argues that the introduction of union membership by default could lead to greater union density and reduce wage inequality in Canada, which is a significant challenge. Unions could establish sectoral bargaining units and use their industrial bargaining power to reduce inequality. The authors believe that unions would gain resources and legitimacy to exercise political influence on income-leveling social policies, creating a paradigm shift in the country's institutional framework and public policy.

While the study's results are hypothetical, the authors believe that most workers would become more supportive of such a policy over the long term, as unions are an "experience good" that people would become more appreciative of once they have experienced them in practice.


Photo credit : Melany Rochester - Unsplash

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