Wages of non-union Canadian workers increasing faster than union wages

In fact, union wages are increasing at slower rate now than they were a decade ago.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a story about the shrinking share of workers in Canada who are unionized.

I was recently reviewing wage information for Canada, and thought I’d share some things I learned about unionized and non-unionized wages.

Here’s the average hourly wage both for union workers and non-unionized workers in Canada for every month between January 2001 and January 2020.

What we see here is that both workers who have union coverage and those without have seen their wages increase over the last 2 decades.

Union workers went from making an average of $19.64 an hour in 2001 to and average of $32.12 an hour in 2020, an increase of $12.48, or 63.5%.

The average non-unionized worker, on the other hand, made $26.96 this past January, up $11.12 from the $15.84 they were making in January 2001. That’s a 70% increase.

So, while it is true that union wages are higher than non-union wages—and have been for decades—non-union wages actually saw a larger increase since 2001 than union wages did.

And that made me wonder what the difference in wages looked like over time.

Here we see that between January 2001 and January 2020, the difference between unionized wages and non-unionized wages increased significantly.

At the beginning of the chart, there was a difference of $3.80 between the two wages. By the end, this difference had increased to $5.16 an hour. At one point, the difference was as high as $5.70 an hour.

Over most of the last 19 years, there was a clear increase in the difference between the two wages. In fact, union wages seemed increasingly to be getting further and further from non-union wages.

Interestingly, however, that changed in 2010.

While there have been increases in the wage difference over the last 10 years, there’ve been decreases, too. This back and forth has resulted in a difference that hasn’t change a whole lot since 2010.

Actually, let’s isolate that data:

That red line is the trendline. It shows how the graph is trending. And what we see is that while it does trend upwards, the incline is very slight. In fact, it actually seems more pronounced because the minimum wage on this graph is set to $4, whereas the minimum wage on the previous graph was set to $2.

The trendline starts at around the $5.17-an-hour mark in 2010 and finishes at about $5.27 an hour, which means that over the last decade, the difference between union wages and non-union wages diverged by only about 10¢ or so.

Compare that to the trendline of the first half of this reference period:

During the previous decade, the divergence trended upward by 83¢, from $4.04 an hour to $4.87.

In other words, the gap between the union wages and non-union wages was increasing during the first decade at a rate that was more than 8 times higher than that of the current decade.

Union wages themselves increased by $6.42 during 2001 and 2010. Between 2010 and 2020, these same wages increased by $6.06. That means that union wages are increasing at slower rate now than they were a decade ago.

Non-union wages, by comparison, went from an increase of $4.67 in the first decade to an increase of $6.45 in the current decade. That means that non-union wages are increasing at much faster rate now than they were a decade ago.

So, not only are union workers making up an every-shrinking share of Canada’s workforce, their wage increases are slowing down, relative to both their own wages over the last 20 years and the wages of non-union workers.

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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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