A Comparison between Labor Relation Union in the United States and Canada Essay

A Comparison between Labor Relation Union in the United States and Canada Essay

To detail the complexities that exist in presenting a concise exposition on the similarities and difference in labor relations union between the two neighboring nations; United States and Canada, a digression into the historical developments of unionism in the two countries cannot be evaded. This paper presents a critical analysis of the comparison through the historical lens of unionism, the structural comparisons and functions of labor relations unions and finally a brief analysis the legal comparisons of labor relations in the United States and Canada.


To put into perspective thee complete character of the labor union relations as exists in the United States and Canada in a single volume is a completely impossible venture. Trade unions are highly complex and diverse. As such they have been studied from a standpoint of diverse disciplines ranging from history, sociology, political science and economics. From an economic perspective, trade unions currently exist as self contained set of institutions. This is specific to the United States case. In some countries such as Canada, trade unions constitute a closely integrated tripartite labor movement with a socialist political party or a labor party and consumer cooperatives. In the United States, there is no socialist or labor party and the consumer cooperatives possess no close linkage with the trade unions. Such cooperatives are only characteristic of university towns, farm areas or the small relatively homogeneous immigrant communes.

Historical Developments and Comparisons

Initially when the trade union movement erupted in the United States, socialism played an important role. It is now has limited influence and trade unions generally work under a modified system of capitalism. While such unions may desire an evolution to a more socialist stance, they do not advocate for dramatic changes through violent actions but rather seek such changes through peaceful interventions. In fact, it is almost an accepted speculation that trade unionism in the United States is the only one with no socialist, religious, or syndicalist ideology.

Trade unions in America have been there since the early years of the formation of the republic. In New York and Philadelphia, organizations of printers and shoemakers existed well before 1800. The first recorded strike was by Philadelphia printers in 1786. These trade unions were confined to large cities because it was only in such cities that you could find a considerable number of employees concentrated in one job specialization. The unskilled laborer saw no need for trade unionism because they believed that improving their conditions could only be achieved by the upward occupational mobility or outward mobility to the geographical frontier.

Trade unionism began in North America during the transition from the mutualist or dependent labor system to the wage labor system. The movement of journeymen artisans to master craftsmen created a pool of interests which directly conflicted with those of their masters hence leading to wage insecurity. A need then arose for the formation of an entity that could ensure that these artisans effectively defended their trade against diluted and cheap labor. In 1827, the Mechanics’ Union of Trade Societies was formed in Philadelphia. In Canada, these developments proceeded rather slowly until 1871, when the Toronto Trades Assembly was formed. In quest of a nationally recognized trade union organization, the National Typographical Union came into being in 1852 in the United States. This was renamed International Typographical Union after it chartered nationals from Canada.

With the onset of the industrialization period, the International Typographical Union maintained its essential craft character because even in the factory context, the collective concerns were more or less the same among skilled workers. However it should be understood that even though work consciousness was predominant in the push for collective activity, the Jacksonian ear workers portrayed a tighter adherence to the producerist values, the concept or artisan republicanism and the ideals of American revolution. This vision was directly impacted by the emergence of industrial capitalism which worsened the injustice and inequalities inherent in the employment system. By the 1930s a fervent fight for equal rights had been launched by a series of labor reform movements hence the creation of the National Labor Union in the 1960s and its subsequent replacement with Knights of Labor. These movements broadly aspired to cooperative commonwealth so much so that the strict adherence to wage workers issues was complimented with educational and political movements. However, the insistence on the separation of trade unionism and labor reformed functions between the Knights of Labor and the International Typographical Union led to their merger into American Federation of Labor(AFL) which is responsible for the labor philosophy as it is understood today.

In Canada, attempts to form a national trade union organization by the Toronto Trades Assembly failed mainly due to colonial attachment to Britain. Despite a push to join the British trade union, many Canadian trade unions became affiliated with American Federation of Labor resulting in the formation of Trades and Labor Congress(TLC) in 1986. After some years the Knights of Labor disappeared from the U.S landscape but because it had considerable strength in Canada, TLC welcomed it. Following calls that Canada should develop its own national trade unionism network which is completely independent from links with the U.S trade unions, Knights of labor was expelled. This expulsion was also partly due to opposition to dual unionism. Thus, by 1902, Canadians had succeeded in gaining full monopoly on trade unionism represented by TLC with the exception of Quebec where through the Catholic Church, Confédération des Travailleurs Catholiques du Canada prevailed until after World War II when these links were severed and it evolved into a secular trade union movement.

With the coming of the great depression, the US labor relations landscape shifted greatly and in contrast to past labor republican ideological tenets, ideology shifted to the support of the Democratic party because FDR was highly responsive to trade or labor union demands. In the constitution, the National Industrial Recovery Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Labor Relations Board, the Employment Act; all laid the framework for a new form of unionism.

In 1935, AFL split and necessitated the formation of Congress of Industrial Organizations(CIO) but AFL made sure that CIO branches in Canada were expelled from TLC. The expelled branches formed the All-Canadian Congress of Labour together with Canadian Congress of Labour. By 1955, AFL had merged with CIO to form AFL-CIO. The other apex of unionism was Canadian Labour Congress(CLC). Up to this day, labor relations unionism operates on these two major fronts; with the original AFL-CIO splitting into AFL-CIO and Change to Win Federation while CLC remaining the dominant front in Canada.

Comparison in the Structure and Functions of Trade Unions

Differences between the Canadian structure and functions of trade unions as well as the differences in the union management relations can be explained by a variety of theories and each and every explanatory analysis is varied dependent on the reflecting authorship biases. For instance, authors intent on maintaining Karl Marx’s approach may posit that labor relations unions is just but another revolutionary force front for the class conscious struggle, while those who directly reject this approach posit that unions participate in maintaining the economic system. These differences directly influence the operations of trade unions in the social and economic context.

The historical development of labor and trade unionism in the United States and Canada possess several significant similarities but the contrasts can be attributed to the divergent cultural values and norms between the two countries hence the contrasting labor relations management styles. The basic structure of unionism is the affiliation of unions to the Canadian Labor Congress. The minor structure includes the unaffiliated and independent union structures. The Canadian Labor Congress is constituted of the national union and the provincial federation of labor which are in turn connected to the regional or district offices, the union local and the local labor council union. This is the traditional labor union structure in Canada. However, things are changing. Public sector unions inclusive of unionized professionals and teachers unions which had hitherto been outside this traditional model are joining the Canadian Labor Congress. On the other hand the international union is composed of the Canadian Labor Congress and all its constitutes and they are joined to the AFL-CIO through International union-United States headquarters.While all these components have specific level defined roles and responsibilities, the unions mainly function towards the purpose of making a positive impact on employees through collectively bargaining for their rights and liberties.

Descriptively, the United States structure is much more flexible owing to relative weakness of the bonds between the bonds involved. This has been instrumental in bringing in world class innovations in production organization, work, service delivery mechanisms, training initiatives, cross functional collaboration and unrestricted organizational innovations. Based on Marx and Webb’s analysis of unionism and their roles in the social and economic context, Hoxie theorized of the existence of diverse forms of unionism; business, friendly or uplift, revolutionary, and predatory(guerrilla and hold up) unionism. According to these classifications, business unionism has grown to be the most dominant form of unionism and hence the determining factor behind the nature of the union structures.

Currently almost all unions in America are either aligned to AFL-CIO or the Change to Win Federation. The Change to Win Federation is a split from AFL-CIO. These organizations advocate legislation and policies on workers behalf in the US and Canada. However, overall union membership has been falling due to a variety of factors but the unions have remained a strong force in political advocacy since they have the capacity to mobilize their membership with like minded activism around a range of issues like trade policies, health care, immigrant rights, and nationwide living wage campaigns. Declining union density in the US and Canada can be attributed to globalization.

Comparison of the United States and Canadian Labor Relations Laws

A comparison between the United States and Canada’s, labor relations union is utterly incomplete when the labor relations laws are not digressed into. These laws directly control the processes through which the institutionalized union gain or lose the right to act as representatives of workers while collectively bargaining for their rights. The labor laws also regulate the interactions that exist between the unionized employees and their respective collective representatives and employers.

One major difference between the United States and Canada’s labor laws is in the jurisdictional authority that is loaded over labor relations laws. In Canada, there exists a decentralized system of laws regulating both the public and private sector. Approximately 92% of Canadian workers are covered under the provincial labor laws while the 8% are employees of the federally regulated industries and are thus under the federal regulation. Contrastingly, in the United States, what exists is a decentralized system of primarily private sector labor relations legislations. The federal labor laws cannot in any way be contradicted by the individual states labor laws even though states have the authority to either expand and or carry out a clarification of the labor laws.

In context, the quantification of the differences that exist between the labor laws can be determined by the Index of Labour Relations Laws which details the overall results of the index of differences as well as the specific scores of different categories such as Certification and Decertification, Regulation of Unionized firms and Union Security. According to the results detailed in an index of labor relations laws reported in Fraser Forum; Comparing Labor Relations Laws in Canada and the United States, there are four distinct groupings of jurisdictions.

The first include the twenty two states in the United States of American with Right-to-Work(RTW) statutes. The index reported that in these states labor laws are the most balanced as well as the least descriptive. These Right-to-Work states differ from other states on the basis of dues payment to unions. Workers in these states can cease their dues payments to the unions completely while their counterparts in other states can only opt out dues payment is such dues are non representation related dues. The second grouping constituted the remaining 28 states in the US and the third is Alberta province in Canada. The other provinces were competitively disadvantaged with regard to the specifics of the labor laws comparison. The final grouping constituted the remaining 9 Canadian provinces together with the Canadian federal government. This final jurisdictional grouping had some of the most biases laws based on the index scale of 1.0-10.0.

Certification and desertification should be understood as being definitive of the processes through which the labor unions acquires or loses the legislative rights of being the exclusive bargaining agents for their employed members. This aspect is dependent on a number of measures such as the use of secret balloting in voting exercises, the differences between the thresholds for the decertification and decertification and remedial certification.

Union security regulations govern union membership. It also regulates payment of labor union dues. On the basis of regulation of unionized firms, the comparison details that the extent of regulation directly attributes to the competitive problems between the unionized and non unionized firms. All in all, comparisons of the labor relations laws between the United States and Canada demonstrate that provincial and federal relations labor laws in Canada are more biased and more prescriptive when compared to the United States, labor union legislations.


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