Unions and Women

Contest entry

Canadian unions are a significant economic and social force that have affected women in the labour force and remain a significant force in the workplace for women which continue to advocate and support the needs and rights of women.

Historically, the majority of women in the labour force in Canada were isolated into “female only” occupations, such as servants, teachers, cooking, cleaning and sewing. During the first part of the 20th century, the jobs for women were limited as there was a strong belief that married women should not be employed and should not work outside of the home. Men believed that if women worked, it would threaten their social fabric and would undercut their own wages that they needed to support their family. 

During the world wars, women replaced the men who worked in factories as they were called away to fight in the war. Many of these women, including young girls, worked 60 to 80 hours a week and were paid less than two cents an hour or were not paid at all, although they were doing the exact same work as the men did.

The women’s movement of the 1960s had made many women aware of their rights and many joined unions. With the evolution of unions, women in the labour market evolved further. The union gave them the power to stand together, to be heard and to be protected.   

Today, women’s union membership continues to increase, with more than half of some union memberships being women.The Institute for Women’s Policy Research conducted a report on job retention and mobility of low-income mothers and found that women who are union members are also more likely to remain in their occupation. Union membership is also linked to higher wages, increased access to and participation in employer-provided pension plans, and subsidization or complete coverage of health insurance premiums by the employer.

As I enter into my university career and pursue a professional career, I am glad that young women like me and other women are protected and represented by unions. 


Raegan Zdunick
Award date
August 2015