In 1960, the same number of workers were in unions in Canada and in the United States. After that, unionization in this country started a steep decline. Yet Canada’s unionization rate has held fairly steady. By 2011, 11.8 percent of U.S. workers were in unions, compared with 29.7 percent in Canada (click chart to enlarge).
So what happened here?
According to the authors of a new Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) report released today, that question can be answered in two words: employer opposition.
Compared to Canada, many workers in the United States are not able to exercise their right to freely join and form unions and participate in collective bargaining, in large part because of employer opposition, which current labor law fails to adequately address.
“Protecting Fundamental Labor Rights: Lessons from Canada for the United States” finds that Canada has two labor practices the United States does not:
1. Card-check recognition. Several jurisdictions in Canada have card-check authorization, in which a majority of employees at a workplace join unions by signing union authorization cards and submitting them to the labor board for verification. In the United States, petitioning the labor board with signed cards is typically just the first step in the process. Unless an employer chooses to voluntarily recognize a union, an election will be scheduled and held. During the time between the petition and the election, which is often delayed by employer opposition and can last for months, employers usually run anti-union campaigns— often committing illegal acts of coercion, intimidation or firing—in an attempt to discourage their employees from voting to unionize. The research presented here suggests that decreasing the opportunities for employers to conduct illegal practices—by implementing card-check authorization in the United States—would be the most effective way to curb this behavior.
2. First contract arbitration. Even after a union has been formed, employers continue to erect barricades in the face of employees’ wishes to collectively bargain. Although employers are required by law to bargain “in good faith,” in reality, they can delay the process with little to no penalty for doing so, with the hope of remaining “union-free.” First contract arbitration allows for a way through stalling tactics and bargaining impasse.
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on August 28, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.