Strong support for making union membership the default option in Canada


DO NOTHING and you’re in. It’s an approach to union membership that could rescue and rebuild the union movement say professors from the University of Waikato. This conclusion comes from their recent research into making union membership the “default option” for all workers  

The “default option” makes union membership automatic for all workers. That is: workers would not have to take any action to join a union, union membership would come with the job—automatically.

The professors commissioned The Vector Poll™ to test the idea in interviews with 1,200 adults, 18 years old or older, throughout Canada. The results showed strong overall support for the idea.

Majority support

For the whole sample, a majority (54.0 percent) were in support of the basic idea of union membership by default. Another majority (55.8 percent) said they would remain in a union once in it.

Workers at unionized organizations were more likely to support union membership by default; while workers at non-unionized organizations were less likely. Older or higher-income respondents were less likely to support union membership by default than younger or lower-income respondents.

Interestingly, British Columbia and Quebec residents were both more likely to support union membership by default than were residents of Alberta.

The odds of staying in the union rather than opting out were 50/50. However, the odds of staying in the union, versus opting out, were higher for respondents with a unionized employer than for those not normally in paid work.

Women, British Columbia residents and Quebec residents were more likely to say they would stay in the union than, respectively, men and Albertans.

Working with the data

The professors worked with their data to give predictions of specific worker reactions in terms of staying in the union versus opting out.

First, if you are out of the workforce, female and not a British Columbia or Quebec resident, you have approximately 7:5 odds (58.14 percent probability) of staying in the union if membership is provided by default.

Second, if you are at the lower end of support (i.e., non-unionized, male, not a British Columbia or Quebec resident), you have roughly 1:2 odds (34.93 percent probability) of staying in the union.

Third, if you are at the upper end of support (i.e., unionized employer, female, Quebec resident), you have nearly 5:1 odds (82.18 percent probability) of staying in the union.

Along with crunching the numbers, the professors point out making union membership the default situation for all workers would move the right to freedom of assembly set out in our Charter of Rights and Freedom beyond lip service to a functioning day-to-day reality.


The professors conclude: “...our results are sufficiently encouraging to warrant further study, the ultimate aim being to create an effective mechanism for reducing wage inequality.”

They acknowledge that such a policy, and the higher union density it promises, would not be a “magic panacea for reducing various types of wage inequality”.

However, they are convinced that, “...the introduction of union membership by default would help increase union resources and legitimacy for exercising political influence on income-levelling social policies. Such an option would be a paradigm shift in the country’s institutional framework and public policy....”

Link to original research HERE

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