The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported that unions 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 inequalities related to structural racism and sexism.”
Labor unions in America are leading the fight for gender equality and improving the lives of their members and correspondingly — for millions of other American workers and their families. Unions long ago forced very reluctant employers to accept 8 hour workdays, safer working conditions, and employee health care coverage. These hard-fought union benefits are now routinely enjoyed by millions of union and non-union American workers alike.
According to the EPI, “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 – EPI Fact Sheet • April 23, 2021 – (https://www.epi.org/publication/unions-help-reduce-disparities-and-strengthen-our-democracy/)
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the union rate for women in 2022 stood at 9.6 percent — or 6.5 million members, while the rate for men was 10.5 percent — or 7.8 million members. Black workers had a union membership rate in 2022 of 11.6 percent compared to White workers at 10.0 percent, Asian workers at 8.3 percent, and Hispanic workers at 8.8 percent.
As our members increase their economic status, so too do other workers. In states with the highest union membership, the average state minimum wage is approximately 19% higher than 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.
According to the EPI, “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.”
The American public realizes the importance of labor unions and the benefits they reap for society as a whole. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 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/)
Anthony 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.