This Labor Day, workers around the country are standing up to demand change in a system that is currently working against them – and I’m on their side. What America’s laborers are asking for is a better deal: good jobs, good wages, and the right to join a union. There is no better way to improve wages and working conditions in our country than to support the right to unionize. Throughout our history, unions have improved the lives of millions of American families, grown the middle class, and pushed our economy forward. Here are just a few reasons why we should support unions this Labor Day – and every other day of the year too.
Unions improve wages for workers and help to reduce income inequality. It’s no secret that union workers earn better wages than their non-union counterparts, but let’s take a look at some numbers. U.S. Census data from 2016 shows that a union worker’s median weekly earnings are about 21 percent higher than their non-union counterparts. Further, a study conducted by a Harvard University professor found that “deunionization – the decline in the percentage of the labor force that is unionized” accounted for 33 percent of the rise in wage inequality among men and about 20 percent among women. With wages stagnant and income inequality on the rise in our country, that fact alone should be enough to make the case in favor of unions.
Unions mean more and better benefits for workers and their families. That’s right – joining a union doesn’t just mean higher wages, it mean more benefits too. On average, 79 percent of union workers participate in job-provided health insurance, as compared to just 49 percent of nonunion workers. The difference is even greater when looking at participation in guaranteed pension plans. While only 16 percent of nonunion workers are in defined benefit plans, a full 76 percent of union workers are covered.
Unions are better for women and people of color – plain and simple. I’ve fought to close the gender and racial pay gap for a very long time. One piece of advice I like to give whenever I’m speaking on the subject: if you want equal pay, join a union! I’ve never seen a union contract that pays women 79 cents to a man’s dollar. Remember that Census data about median weekly earnings being 21 percent higher for union members? Well the difference is even more striking when we isolate it for women and people of color. Women workers in unions make 24 percent more than their nonunion counterparts, African American union workers make 23 percent more, and Latino union members make a whopping 32 percent more.
Unions give workers the strength to stand up for themselves. From its onset, the labor movement has been at the forefront of the fight to improve working conditions and workplace safety. At the local level, knowing their union has their back gives workers the confidence and support they need to stand up and report harassment, poor working conditions, or workplace safety violations. Nationally, the labor movement has been instrumental in passing landmark legislation like the Occupational Safety and Health act of 1970 and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. Strengthening unions means improving safety for workers around the country.
Unions are better for children and communities. Ensuring that our children have more and better opportunities is the essence of the American dream. It is what Americans worry about while sitting around the kitchen table, and currently about half of Americans believe the next generation –their kids – will be worse off financially than they are. A recent study by the Center for American Progress (CAP) demonstrated that high union participation in a community means more opportunities for children and a much greater ability for them to improve their economic status down the road. According to this study, high union participation within a community actually benefits the community as a whole. High union participation increases wages for everyone – even nonunion workers. If we want our communities, our families, and our kids to do better, unions are the answer.
Unions have moved our country forward for generations. It’s time to show our support for unions and work with them to grow the middle class, achieve equal pay, ensure a brighter future for our children, and improve safety and benefits on the job.
Happy Labor Day!