Managerial Hostility and Attitudes Towards Unions: A Canada-US Comparison


We use a cross-country survey of attitudes toward work and unions, which includes a sample of managers in both the US and Canada, to explore whether there is greater attitudinal hostility to unions in the U.S. Our estimates indicate that American manager’s attitudes towards unions are, perhaps surprisingly, less hostile than those of Canadian managers. We explain this first finding by the differential effect of perceived union power, which is greater in Canada than the US and which is correlated negatively with union approval. We also find that US managers are less likely to use extreme methods to oppose union organizing drives, implying that the lower union rates in the US as compared to Canada are not likely the result of greater negativity towards unions themselves but rather some other factor or combination of factors. The implication is that if Canadian managers faced the same labor relations playing field as their US counterparts, they would likely find it easier to thwart union certification drives as well. Alternatively stated, Canadian-style labor relations reforms (such as card-check systems or quicker certification votes) could perhaps tip the balance in favor of unions when organizing in the US.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    The incentive arises, in part, from higher union wage premiums in the US as compared to other countries for which similar estimates are available (Blanchflower and Freeman 1992 and Blanchflower and Bryson 2004).

  2. 2.

    We have some evidence on this already since in Canada we know from Riddell (2004) that unfair labour practices (ULPs) are twice as effective under elections relative to card check (though the amounts of ULPs are the same) with similar findings for the US (Abraham et al. 2009).

  3. 3.

    See Towers (1997); Kumar (1993); Rose and Chaison (1990, 1996); Martinello and Yates (2004) and Bruce (1989). Recent evidence of the importance of card-check offs in improving union organizing have been found in Riddell (2004) and Slinn (2004).

  4. 4.

    Because of their expense, difficulty in achieving appropriate response rates through telephone surveying, and complexity, cross-national surveys of this kind—with such a comprehensive focus on labor relations—are now quite rare.

  5. 5.

    At the time of the Lipset and Meltz survey, 1996, there were 16 US sates that had union density rates less than 10 %. The lowest rate in Canada by contrast was found in Alberta at 22 %. This sets up another potential supporting piece of evidence for this explanation of our findings. The states that enacted right-to-work laws after the Taft-Hartley amendments of 1947 were States in which union density had always been historically low (North Carolina, Alabama etc.,). This can be seen in Appendix table 5. In other words, non-favourable union laws were an affirmation (and to some extent an insurance) of union weakness, not the direct cause.

  6. 6.

    Lipset and Katachanovski (2001) also used the Lipset-Meltz data. However, they only provided comparisons of means and did not undertake any multivariate analyses of the manager subsample that is used in this paper.

  7. 7.

    Ancillary analysis based on the success rate of certification applications in both countries demonstrates that on average 70 % of organizing drives are successful in Canada as compared to 47 % in the United States. See Meltz and Verma (1996: Table 4) and Kumar (1993:30, Tables 5).

  8. 8.

    For example, in 1994 the ratio of complaints to elections in the US was 0.630 compared to 0.242 in British Columbia [US Data: Annual Report of the National Labour Relations Board; B.C. Data: Labour Relations Board, Annual Reports to the Minister of Labour].

  9. 9.

    The implicit assumption here is that union organizing is of equal “quality” and “quantity” in both countries. Meltz (1985) argued that the lack of competition among unions for members in the US had reduced proactive organizing as compared to Canada.

  10. 10.

    Changes to labor law in a number of Canadian provinces during the 1990s allowed for longer delays in the union certification process (Campolieti et al. 2007).

  11. 11.

    Findings from the survey (upon which the data for this paper is based) were originally made available in Lipset et al. (2004). Our paper however draws on primary data, literature and results not published in that volume.

  12. 12.

    An exception is the “What Workers Want” data collected by Freeman and Rogers (1999) for the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

  13. 13.

    In terms of extrapolating to national observations, the survey was undertaken by a well-known pollster Ipsos-Reid (then known as Angus-Reid) familiar with nationally representative surveys of this kind. When the survey was originally completed, the three survey samples for each country (so six in total)—there was a general population sample, a workforce sample and a union member sample—were examined against the various socio-demographic and workforce characteristics of the representative populations. According to Ipsos-Reid “The samples were considered to be satisfactorily representative across the range of descriptors examined with one exception of reported educational attainment, which [was] higher than the actual across all six samples.” (Lipset et al. 2004: 182).

  14. 14.

    Results presented in the text refer to the self-reported sample of managers who responded yes to the question “Would you describe yourself as a manager—that is, as someone who participates in establishing policies at your company or organization?” and who responded yes to the question “In your capacity as manager are you responsible for supervising or monitoring the work of subordinates?”

  15. 15.

    Lipset et al. (2004: 109) show correlations between historical average union density in the following periods (1939–1992), (1939 to 1974), (1939 to 1964), and (1982 to 1992) and demonstrate a strong positive relationship between current union density levels across states. The correlations are respectively 0.89, 0.82, 0.77, and 0.96.

  16. 16.

    The correlation between historical average union densities (1939 to 1992) in Canada was 0.51.


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Correspondence to Rafael Gomez.




Table 5 Summary statistics for variables included in logit model


Table 6 Union density rankings by state, 1964, 1996 and 2011

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Campolieti, M., Gomez, R. & Gunderson, M. Managerial Hostility and Attitudes Towards Unions: A Canada-US Comparison. J Labor Res 34, 99–119 (2013).

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  • Unions
  • Attitudes
  • Managerial opposition
  • Canada-US differences

JEL Classification

  • J51
  • J52
  • J53