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Large wage gap between Cape Breton's unionized and non-unionized workers: labour group

SYDNEY — There is a significant average hourly wage gap between unionized and non-unionized workers in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, according to a study by the Canadian Labour Congress.

On average, unionized workers in the region earn an additional $7.10 an hour, figures released Wednesday indicate.

The data came from Statistics Canada’s monthly labour force survey in 2013 and applies to the Cape Breton census metropolitan area, noted CLC chief economist Angella MacEwen. The congress represents provincial and territorial federations of labour and district labour councils.

“We feel that when we talk to people at the community level and say, here in your community, here is the value of unions, people connect to that much more,” MacEwen said, of the reasons behind the survey.

Average unionized workers in Halifax earn $6.03 an hour more than non-unionized workers.

Forty-two per cent of the labour force in the area of Cape Breton covered by the survey is unionized.

MacEwen acknowledged that the gap may be somewhat skewed in an area such as Cape Breton where higher-paying jobs are generally associated with its larger employers and public-sector employers in areas such as health and education, which are unionized.

“That certainly is true in some places … where there are some very well-paying unionized jobs and then some of the jobs that are harder to unionize, for example some fast-food service sector jobs,” she said. “That certainly is a factor, it’s not the entire factor.”

In addition to the wage difference, MacEwen noted organized labour also negotiates for benefits such as dental and medical coverage.

“That creates a demand for eye doctors in Cape Breton and dentists in Cape Breton, that people are able to pay for those things, it’s a bigger deal in smaller communities where that may not be present already,” she said.

The labour congress said the extra revenue associated with the higher unionized wages translates to an additional $4.06 million every week paid into the community.

It is only the second time it conducted the survey at the community level, having previously looked at the numbers provincially. In its first year, about 30 communities were studied. Cape Breton was not among the communities studied last year.

Researchers have expanded the survey to look at wages in 76 Canadian metropolitan and other census areas. In Nova Scotia, unionized workers earn an average of $6.54 an hour more than non-unionized workers, which the congress says contributes an extra $29.50 million a week to the provincial economy.

MacEwen said the congress hopes what union members take away from the data is a positive feeling about their involvement in organized labour. She added it’s hoped that others, such as small business owners, will appreciate the additional wages coming into the community supporting the services they offer.

In Nova Scotia, women who belong to a union earn an average of $7.45 an hour more than non-unionized women. Young workers in the province aged 15 to 29 earn an additional $5.85 an hour if they belong to a union.

Nationally, the general union/non-union wage gap is $5.17 an hour. The figure is $6.89 for women and $3.16 for younger workers.

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