With The Middle Class At Risk, We Need Unions Now More Than Ever
We’ll be taking a welcome day off next Monday, and we hope all of you can do the same. But celebrating Labor Day is about more than just a three-day weekend. It’s a chance to reflect on the importance of unions and remember that we need them now more than ever.
Unions have been at the center of some of America’s most important fights for fair labor standards. Unions helped end child labor: the very first American Federation of Labor (AFL) national convention passed a resolution calling on states to “ban children under 14 from all gainful employment.” Labor unions negotiated for and won employer-provided health insurance coverage, one of the first great expansions of health care to all Americans. And unions didn’t just give us this Labor Day long weekend – they fought for labor standards that gave us ALL weekends.
Unions are central in providing good jobs and middle-class security to America workers. As unions go, so goes the middle class. The chart below spells that out pretty clearly: as union membership has declined, the middle-class share of income has also dropped:
CREDIT: CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND
Nowadays, union membership is under attack from many who are either ignoring history and economic data, or only have the wealthiest Americans’ interests in mind. Anti-union policy groups and lawmakers in states across the country are attacking an already weakened labor movement by advancing so-called “right-to-work” laws, which inhibit workers from collectively bargaining for better wages, benefits and protections, under the guise of ‘choice.’ These laws allow some workers to get the advantages of a union contract—such as higher wages, benefits, and protection against arbitrary discipline—without paying any fee associated with negotiating on these matters. This doesn’t result in more freedom, it results in lower incomes.
Wisconsin became the latest state to adopt a “right-to-work” law and take its working families in the wrong direction. Estimates by Marquette University economist Abdur Chowdhury suggest that Wisconsin workers and families will lose between $3.89 and $4.82 billion in direct income annually due to effects of the law. Recently, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) vetoed a bill passed by the Missouri legislature to enact a similar policy there.
The numbers are clear. The typical worker in a “right-to-work” state makes about $1,560 less per year than she would in a state without such a law. According to new research, women in union jobs earn $212 per week, or 30.9%, more than women in non-union jobs; men in union jobs earn $173 more per week than their non-union counterparts. Union women also face a smaller gender wage gap: They earn 88.7 cents for every dollar a man makes, compared to 78 cents across all workers.
BOTTOM LINE: If you care about a strong middle class in America, you should care about unions. The organizers that have been at the heart of many important labor reforms in the past have a vital role to play for America’s economy now and in the future, too. It’s on us to take every opportunity we can to remind people that unions work. So have a great long weekend, and make sure you remind your friends and loved ones: Enjoying your labor day weekend? Thank a union.
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