Unions more important than ever, says report

CALGARY - In the turbulent workplace of the 1990s, workers in Alberta need the kind of protection that unions provide more than ever.

That was the central message of a research report released today at the Alberta Federation of Labour's biennial convention, being held this week in Calgary.

The report - called Now More Than Ever - examines the challenges and opportunities facing the Alberta labour movement as it prepares to enter the 21st century.

"Some of our critics argue that unions are relics of the past and that we have been rendered obsolete by the so-called global economy," said AFL president Audrey Cormack. "But what this report shows is that Albertans still want and need unions. In fact, in the dog-eat-dog labour market of the 21st century, workers will probably need unions more than ever."

Highlights of the AFL report include the following:

  • Despite declining union membership south of the border, union membership in Canada has remained stable and strong. One in four Alberta workers are currently covered by union-negotiated contracts.
  • Union membership in Alberta climbed from 253,000 in 1997 to 286,5000 in 1998. That represents an annual increase of six percent.
  • Many non-union workers want to join unions. A recent survey of Alberta high school and university graduates shows that about 30 percent would join a union if they had the chance. Another 40 percent would be at least open to the idea. These findings are consistent with other surveys conducted in Alberta and across the country.
  • The average wage for workers paid by hour in Alberta is 11 percent lower today than in 1983, once inflation is taken into account. At the same time, the gap between the wages earned by men and women is wider in Alberta than any other province. This suggests that many Alberta workers could benefit from union representation.
  • Union members get paid more than non-union workers. On average union workers earn $18/hr versus an average of only $14/hr for non-union workers. This translates into a union wage advantage of about 30 percent. Union members are also more likely to have "non-wage" benefits like pensions, dental plans and paid sick leave. Eighty-two percent of union members have a pension versus only 33 percent of non-union workers.
  • Despite criticisms from the business community, studies show that unions can actually improve the productivity of firms. Some of Alberta's most prominent and profitable firms have highly unionized workforces. For example: Suncor, Imperial Oil (refineries), Petro-Canada (refineries), Telus, Luscar, Weldwood, Safeway, Celanese and Sherritt.

"This is a good news report," says Cormack. "It shows that unions still have an important role to play in Alberta. We face many challenges as we head into the next century. But based on the findings of this report, I'm confident that the labour movement will be around for a long time to come. And I'm confident that we will continue our proud tradition of fighting for improved conditions in the workplace and in the broader community."

For more information call:

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications: (403) 508-5129 (office) or (780) 910-1137 (cell)

Audrey Cormack, AFL President:   (780) 499-6530 (cell)

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