The year 2023 marked a significant turning point for union membership in Canada, particularly within the private sector. An estimated 178,000 private sector workers joined trade unions, a number which is comparable to the entire population of Regina. The growth in private sector union membership outpaced that of the public sector, contributing to an overall increase in the share of Canadian union members to 15.5% – the highest level since 2020.

The post-COVID-19 economic landscape has also influenced this resurgence in union activity. Households have faced skyrocketing consumer prices, particularly for essentials like food, fuel, and housing – remnants of the pandemic’s impact on supply chains and inventories. As prices rose, wages struggled to keep pace, diminishing the purchasing power of employment income. This economic pressure has fueled workers’ support of unions within Canada.

Investment in industrial buildings has shown a steady increase, rising from approximately $929 million in January 2020 to around $1.3 billion by early 2024. This growth signifies a broader economic recovery and expansion that is likely to impact labour demands further.

In the energy sector, Canada remains a global leader as the fourth-largest oil-producing country. Alberta stands at the heart of this industry, producing nearly ten times as much oil as the second-largest province. The oil industry’s economic impact is substantial, contributing nearly 40 billion Canadian dollars to the national GDP and accounting for over three percent of the total GDP when combined with conventional extraction.

Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), emphasized the political implications of this trend as the next Canadian federal election approaches. Bruske highlighted findings from a recent poll commissioned by the CLC, conducted by GQR Canada in April 2024, that surveyed close to 1,550 eligible voters. The poll revealed a high degree of support for unions among Canadians:

  • A majority, 62%, believe belonging to a union is beneficial, with support highest among women and in electoral battleground regions such as Ontario and the Maritimes.
  • 70% of Canadians advocate for the removal of barriers to forming or joining a union

Bruske states that as “part of a union, workers can negotiate better. A union card in your back pocket is your ticket to fairer wages, decent benefits, respect in your workplace, and financial security when you retire. That’s why the labour movement is seeing so much momentum and growth across the country.” 

Recently, the Canadian Building Trades Unions welcomed Bill C-58 which was recently tabled, which is anti-replacement worker legislation to ban employers from bringing in replacement workers to perform the work of unionized workers who are on strike or locked out of their jobs. The GPMC I NMC agreements adopt basic monetary terms negotiated by the 13 unions in the alliance, and feature a cooperative, streamlined grievance process. These agreements also incorporate a clause ensuring that there will be no strikes or lockouts to disrupt essential maintenance activities, protecting workers, contractors and organizations.

With major bargaining rounds scheduled for 2024 in construction, energy and maintenance sectors, workers appear to be focused on two key factors that include keeping wages on pace with inflation and ensuring a safe work environment.

As Brett McKenzie, Executive Director of the GPMC I NMC states, “We are proud to share the achievements of our industry as our maintenance contractors and skilled members continue to showcase their expertise while executing both long-term and short term maintenance activities. Our skilled workforce, represented by 13 Trade Unions, has tirelessly ensured the efficiency and safety of industrial facilities throughout Canada.”

He notes that the GPMC | NMC has been building trusting partnerships between owners, contractors, and tradespeople since 1952. “Being a craftsperson is not just a job; it’s a badge of honor showcasing the dedication to excellence and craftsmanship,” said McKenzie

As Canada navigates this evolving labour landscape, the interplay between union membership growth, economic pressures, and political dynamics will shape the future of workers’ rights and protections. The data suggests a strong mandate from the public for political action to support and enhance unionization efforts, setting the stage for continued need for skilled workers in sectors that include the maintenance industry.