Center for American Progress Action

RELEASE: Unions and Expanded Collective Bargaining Are Key to Closing Gender and Racial Pay Gaps, New CAP Action Brief Says
Press Release

RELEASE: Unions and Expanded Collective Bargaining Are Key to Closing Gender and Racial Pay Gaps, New CAP Action Brief Says

Washington, D.C. — A day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against public sector unions in Janus v. AFSCME, the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund released a new issue brief illustrating how unions and expanded levels of collective bargaining are effective ways to close gender and racial pay gaps among American workers.

The American Worker Project’s brief illustrates how conservative attacks on both public sector and private sector unions create an environment where it is even more urgent for progressive policymakers at all levels of government—federal, state, and local—to fight to protect existing unions and to update U.S. labor law so that more workers can bargain collectively and more bargaining occurs at the industry or occupation level.

“The research is clear: Unions and collective bargaining play a crucial role in making sure that women and workers of color are paid fairly. Policymakers looking to close pay gaps and fight inequality broadly should work to further empower workers and create new, modern forms of collective bargaining that allow more workers to share in the benefits of union contracts,” said Alex Rowell, policy analyst for Economic Policy at CAP Action and coauthor of the brief.

The brief examines the body of research illustrating that unions and collective bargaining reduce pay gaps between men and women and between workers of color and white workers. Attacks on public sector unions—such as the conservative justices’ ruling in Janus or further Wisconsin-style assaults on public sector bargaining at the state level—risk jeopardizing this progress. Yesterday, CAP Action released a new report offering policies for state and local policymakers to pursue in order to protect government workers. These policies are aimed at combating the Janus attack on workers’ rights and ensuring that public sector workers are free to come together in strong unions.

CAP Action’s brief also examines how broader sectoral bargaining for the private sector can reduce gender and racial pay gaps. CAP Action’s examination of research shows that countries with greater collective bargaining coverage and collective bargaining that occurs primarily above the firm level tend to have smaller pay gaps than do other countries, as well as that forms of wage-setting in the United States that occur above the workplace level lead to smaller gender and racial pay gaps.

The Center for American Progress, the sister organization to CAP Action, has recently released proposals calling for the establishment of wage boards as a step on the path to full industrywide bargaining. While wage boards would represent a significant change from the current bargaining process, they have a proven track record in several U.S. states, as well as in other countries. CAP’s wage board proposal suggests a model akin to what has been used in several states, including California and New York. Features of such a system would include:

  • Representatives of workers, businesses, and the public forming a panel, with the power to set minimum workplace standards for industries, regions, and occupations. The basic goal for these panels would be to foster negotiations about how much of industry revenues should go to workers versus employers and then set standards to help achieve these levels.
  • Panels setting minimum wages for jobs across an industry, as well as wage scales requiring higher pay for greater skills or experience. The wage board could also set minimum benefit and scheduling requirements, as well as profit-sharing requirements. Additionally, standards that panels set would be floors. Individual workers and firm-level unions could negotiate for improvements but could not go below set minimums, while state and local governments could set higher standards.
  • Covering all workers in an industry, whether they were employees or independent contractors and whether or not they were unionized. Wage board standards would include a premium for independent contractors to compensate for the additional costs that independent contractors bear—such as employer-side payroll taxes—and to minimize incentives for employers to cheat by classifying employees as independent contractors.
  • Providing strong legal protections for participating workers, as well as some funding and other incentives for worker organizations, to facilitate worker participation. This is designed to ensure that workers and their representatives can mount a persuasive case for raising wages and have sufficient power to encourage business and government representatives to seriously consider supporting increases. The goal is to enable workers to stand on relatively even footing with employers.

Click here to read “Combating Pay Gaps with Unions and Expanded Collective Bargaining” by David Madland and Alex Rowell.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at or 202.478.6331.