After years of relentless attacks from wealthy corporations and anti-union special interests, younger workers and now a majority of Americans, recognize the importance of labor unions. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 55% of adult Americans say “labor unions have a positive effect.” In fact, most Americans “say the long-term decrease in the percentage of workers represented by unions is bad for working people.” (Source: Pew Research Center – “Majorities of Americans say unions have a positive effect on U.S. and that decline in union membership is bad” by John Gramlich – September 3, 2021 (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/09/03/majorities-of-americans-say-unions-have-a-positive-effect-on-u-s-and-that-decline-in-union-membership-is-bad/)
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 11% of all workers belong to a labor union – a 2.5% decrease from 2000. According to Pew, 68% of Black adults and 64% of Hispanic adults view unions favorably, compared with 51% of White and 50% of Asian adults. Younger adults see unions more positively than older Americans; 69% of those ages 18 to 29 say unions have a positive effect, while only 44% of Americans ages 65 and older say the same. (Source: Pew Research Center – “Majorities of Americans say unions have a positive effect on U.S. and that decline in union membership is bad” by John Gramlich – September 3, 2021 (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/09/03/majorities-of-americans-say-unions-have-a-positive-effect-on-u-s-and-that-decline-in-union-membership-is-bad/)
Unions long ago forced very reluctant employers to accept 8 hour workdays, safer working conditions, employee health care coverage, pensions, vacations and other employee benefits. These hard-fought union benefits are now routinely enjoyed by millions of non-union American workers. It’s a proven fact that while unions fight to improve the lives of their own members, as a consequence they improve the lives of the vast majority of working Americans.
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) maintains that unions help reduce income inequality by “improving wages and benefits for all workers,” and “reduce racial disparities in wages and raise women’s wages, . . . counteracting occupational segregation, discrimination, and other labor market inequities related to structural racism and sexism. 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.” Source: Unions help reduce disparities and strengthen our democracy – Fact Sheet • April 23, 2021 – (https://www.epi.org/publication/unions-help-reduce-disparities-and-strengthen-our-democracy/)
According to a 2021 report by EPI entitled “Unions are not only good for workers, they’re good for communities and for democracy.” In states with the highest union membership, the average state minimum wage is approximately 19% higher that the national average and 40% higher than the minimum wage in lower union membership states. Additionally, the higher membership states also have median annual incomes $6,000 higher than the national average.
Since most of the higher union membership states elected to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, they have a 4.5% lower rate of uninsured residents. These states are also more likely to have enacted paid sick and family and medical leave laws than states with lower union membership.
A key emphasis of the EPI report focused on union strength and the enactment of pro-worker policy initiatives that benefit union and non-union workers alike. According to the report, “where unions are weak, wealthy corporations and their allies are more successful at pushing through policies and legislation that hurt working people. A strong labor movement protects workers, reduces disparities, and strengthens our democracy.”
Labor unions have always led the way in fighting to improve the quality of life for their members and their families, and as a consequence — for millions of other American workers. Unions have set the standards for family-sustaining wages, adequate health care coverage for employees and appropriate job site safety conditions and requirements. Those hard fought victories are under constant assault by anti-union zealots bent on eliminating fair wages and government regulated working conditions.
As we move into unchartered waters with a seemingly anti-worker United State Supreme Court, union and non-union workers alike must be vigilant and attentive to the political process — to ensure that pro-worker representatives — at all levels of government — who share a pro-worker vision are elected to public office.
Abrantes is the Assistant Executive Secretary-Treasurer for the Eastern Atlantic State Regional Council of Carpenters, which represents nearly 43,000 Union Carpenters from, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Virginia, & West Virginia.