Alberta private sector more unionized under NDP than UCP

Under the UCP, however, the public sector became more unionized at a faster rate.

In March 2020, Statistics Canada release 2021 data for union coverage among workers. I thought I’d take a look at the data for Alberta.

This article will compare 2021 unionization data with data in two other periods: 10 years ago (2011) and the last year of the NDP (2018). It will also look at union coverage during the UCP term and what it looked like after the NDP’s first 3 years.

First, let’s start at overall union coverage.

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In 2011, 405,900 workers in Alberta were covered by a union. That number jumped to 485,200 by 2021. Keep in mind that these number represents total workers, which means that population growth would account for some of that increase.

To adjust for population growth, let’s look at union coverage as a percentage of total workers.

In 2011, 23.29% workers in Alberta were covered by a union. That percentage increased to 25.56% over the next 10 years.

So, while the total number of unionized worker increased by nearly 80,000—or 19.5%—the ratio of unionized to total workers increased by only 2.27 percentage points. Far less impressive.

Here’s a look at the percentage over the last 10 years.

As you can see, even though there were a couple of dips in union coverage over the last 10 years, overall, the trend was an upward one.

The bulk of that growth was in the public sector, which increased 2.64 points during that period, from 70.33% to 72.97%. The private sector, on the other hand, decreased, but by less than a quarter of a percentage point, from 11.32% to 11.10%.

Most economic sectors saw a decrease in union coverage during that period. In fact, only 5 sectors saw an increase.

Public administration62.25%70.01%7.76
Business, building, other support serv.6.99%13.60%6.61
Wholesale & retail trade9.67%12.16%2.49
Transportation & warehousing27.40%29.35%1.95
Health care & social assistance51.02%51.43%0.41

The public administration sector is basically government employees, however, it doesn’t include public sector employees that are publicly funded but work outside of government offices. Those workers would be in their respective economic sectors, such as education or healthcare.

Interestingly, the two sectors that saw the largest growth in union membership last year accounted for only 8.39% of the provincial workforce.

Here’s are the sectors that saw a drop in union coverage.

Information, culture & recreation24.46%20.52%-3.95
Fin., ins., real estate, rental & leasing5.82%2.14%-3.68
Forestry, fish., mining, quarrying, O&G9.66%7.20%-2.46
Professional, scientific & technical serv.4.36%2.28%-2.09
Educational services68.88%68.42%-0.45
Other services (except public admin.)7.86%7.41%-0.45

These sectors have see the wide variance that we saw in the 5 sectors with the greatest growth, which saw a spread of more than 4 points between the third highest and second highest.

The above 9 sectors accounted for roughly half—49.2%— of the provincial workforce.

I should point out that two sectors—agriculture and accommodation and food services—didn’t report any unionized workers in Alberta in 2021. For that matter, none for 2020 either. In fact, agriculture workers haven’t shown up as unionized at any point over the last 10 years, and accommodation and food services workers have never been more than 3.5% unionized over the last decade.

If we add in both the agriculture sector and the accommodation and food services sector, we see that 55.43% of the workforce in Alberta either saw a decrease in union coverage over the last 10 years or has remained stagnant.

Among all industries, the public sector saw an increase of 2.64 points over the last decade, from 70.33% in 2011 to 72.97% in 2021. The private sector, on the other hand, saw a net decrease of 0.22 points during the same period.

Now, how does union coverage during the time that the UCP have been in power?

At the end of 2018, just months before the UCP won the 2019 provincial election, overall union coverage sat at 24.43%. Three years later, in 2021, that number had increased 1.13 points to 25.56%.

Most of that growth was in the public sector, which increased 2.37 points, from 70.61% to 72.97%. The private sector increased from 10.74% to 11.10%, an bump of just 0.36 points.

Compare that to the NDP, which saw overall union coverage increase 2.75 points during their first 3 years, with 2.29 points for the public sector and 0.45 points for the public sector.

Total first year24.43%22.20%
Total third year25.56%24.95%
Public first year70.61%68.76%
Public third year72.97%71.05%
Private first year10.74%10.81%
Private third year11.10%11.26%
Numbers may be off due to rounding

Here is the same information in a graph.

And here is what union coverage looked like under the two parties after 3 years.

Private sector unionization was higher under the NDP than the UCP—but still not at all impressive—yet the public sector has seen higher unionization under the UCP.

Here are how the various economic sectors fared in union coverage during the first 3 years of each administration.

Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas-3.503.27
Wholesale and retail trade2.082.12
Transportation and warehousing2.363.61
Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing-1.431.77
Professional, scientific and technical services-0.90-0.44
Business, building and other support services3.174.53
Educational services1.981.46
Health care and social assistance-2.792.75
Information, culture and recreation2.10-6.69
Accommodation and food services-0.70
Other services (except public administration)1.64-1.47
Public administration6.652.33

A few things stick out.

Where the oil and gas sector saw a drop in union coverage under the UCP, the sector saw an increase under the NDP. Same goes for “finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing” and “health care and social assistance”.

It was the opposite case for the construction sector, the “information, culture and recreation” sector, and the “other services” sector.

Also, while the hospitality sector saw a 0.7 point drop in union coverage under the NDP, virtually no workers were unionized under the UCP by the end of 2021. And agricultural workers—as previously mentioned—weren’t unionized under either.

For all other sectors, workers saw either increases under both parties or decreased under both parties. All that differed was the spread between the two parties.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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