New Report Proves How Unions Raise the Bar for All Workers

August 27, 2021

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(This article first appeared in the September-October issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

In April, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a new fact sheet on the effect unions have on the lives of all workers. Specifically, the report shows that increased union density increases wages and benefits for all workers, reduces racial and gender disparities in the labor market, and helps win pro-worker legislation across all levels of government.

“By bringing workers’ collective power to the bargaining table, unions are able to win better wages and benefits for working people – reducing income inequality as a result,” the report says. “When unions are strong, they set wage standards for entire industries and occupations; they make wages more equal within occupations; and they close pay gaps between white workers and workers of color.”

Higher Union Density Means Improved Wages and Benefits and Less Income Inequality

According to the fact sheet, union workers earn around 10.2 percent more in hourly wages than their non-union counterparts with similar levels of education and training. This is especially evident in traditionally low-paying occupations, such as dishwashers, janitors and nurses: “After unionizing, dishwashers in Las Vegas hotels made $4 per hour more than the national average for that job, and they were offered excellent benefits. In Houston, a 2006 first-ever union contract for 5,300 janitors resulted in a 47% pay increase and an increase in guaranteed weekly hours of work,” the report says.

Even when not part of a union, workers see their wages benefit from high union density on the state level. The average median weekly wages are $1,121.70 a week in the 10 states with the strongest union density versus $942.70 a week for those in the 10 lowest union density states in 2020.

In addition to higher wages, union members are also much more likely to have strong benefits and job protections.

“More than nine in 10 workers – 95% – covered by a union contract have access to employer-sponsored health benefits, compared with just 68% of nonunion workers,” the fact sheet says. Union employers also contribute 77.4% more (per hour worked) toward their employees’ health coverage than non-union employers. Union workers are much more likely to have paid sick, vacation and holiday leave, as well as job security protections against being fired “at-will.”

Collective bargaining also boosts wages for Black and Hispanic workers. “Black workers – both men and women – are more likely than white workers to be covered by collective bargaining, and the wage boost they get from being covered by collective bargaining is 13.1%, above the 10.2% average wage boost for unionized workers overall,” the report says. “The result of this union wage premium – how much more union workers earn than comparable nonunion workers – is that collective bargaining lifts wages of Black workers closer to those of their white counterparts.”

Higher Union Density Helps Win Policies that Help Every Worker

On the federal level, unions were major parts of the efforts to pass laws improving economic security and workplace protections. “The labor movement helped pass and defend the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Social Security Act, Medicare and Medicaid, and numerous other laws benefiting all workers and their communities,” the report says. Additionally, higher union density correlates strongly with higher minimum wage laws and better worker protections. Cities and states with high union density are more likely to have laws guaranteeing paid sick days, paid family leave and fair scheduling laws. “EPI’s fact sheet confirms what we already know: more unionized workers across all industries mean better working conditions and better lives for all workers. As contract negotiations continue, we are reminded that our collective bargaining rights won in the Great Postal Strike of 1970, has, through continuing struggle, greatly uplifted the well-being of postal workers, our families and communities,” said President Dimondstein. “We indeed are living the ‘union difference.’”

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