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Graph showing unionization rate in the US and Canada, 1920-2010. Very similar until the 1960s and then the US drops well below Canada.
Unionization rates in the United States and Canada looked pretty similar for a long time. But in the 1960s, they started growing apart, with the U.S. dropping well below Canada. The fact that a country with which the U.S. has so much in common has a union membership level more than twice as high makes clear that so many of the reasons commonly offered for low-and-dropping American union membership are just not true.

So unless you believe that technology and globalization have affected the United States that much more than they have Canada, what's going on here? You don't think it might have anything to do with the fact that one of the major American political parties has for decades been doing its best to wipe out unions altogether, do you? But yes, the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Kris Warner details how much more strongly Canada protects workers and the right to organize.

Unlike in the United States, where businesses can drag their feet and obstruct and draw out the time between workers saying they want a union and the election that actually gets them a union—time bosses use to intimidate and often fire union supporters—things go more quickly:

Card-check authorization, which is used in almost half of Canadian provinces, allows a majority of employees to form a union at their workplace simply by signing cards stating that they would like to do so. The other provinces have a system similar to the U.S.’s, where cards are signed, a petition is submitted to the labor board and then an election is held. In Canada, however, the election is typically required to occur within five to 10 days after the petition, which allows for far less anti-union campaigning by employers.
And when the boss intimidates or fires workers or otherwise tries to illegally block workers from unionizing, Canada addresses it quickly, rather than months or years after the fact when it can't make a difference. Canada also has first-contract arbitration, meaning that if an employer and a union can't come to agreement on that first contract after workers unionize, they go into mediation, and if mediation doesn't work, an arbitrator settles the disputes and imposes a contract. By contrast, in the United States, employers frequently refuse to negotiate in good faith and it can take months or years to get a contract.

In other words, remember the Employee Free Choice Act? Canada basically has that, plus a few other protections for workers in unions. Which goes to show, one more time, for the doubters, that low union membership in the United States is about action from above, about policy and power, not about what workers want or the global economy requires.

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Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 12:03 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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