Unions work for building power—for all workers

There’s a lot to talk about on Labor Day, but we should take at least a moment to really acknowledge the difference unions make in the lives of working people in this country. Even after decades under assault from the bosses and the Republicans, even representing too few workers, unions boost their members—and not only their members, but more about that in a minute—to a living wage or into the middle class, they get people health coverage, and they reduce racial and gender inequality. Let’s take a look at some of the numbers, courtesy of the AFL-CIO:

  • People with a union have median weekly earnings of $1,051 as opposed to $860 for people without a union.
  • The median for black workers with a union vs. not is $826 vs. $673. For Latino workers, it’s $912 vs. $657. For Asian American workers, it’s $1,119 vs. $1,092.
  • Unions make a difference on benefits, too: 75% of people in a union have job-provided health insurance. For people not in a union, the rate is 49%.
  • In unions, 72% of people have guaranteed pensions, while just 14% of people not in unions have guaranteed pensions.
  • And 90% of people in a union have paid sick leave compared with 71% of people not in a union.

These days, unions represent less than 11% of workers—but that doesn’t mean they’re only making life better for 11% of workers. Take the strikes by teachers fighting not just for their own wages and benefits but for school funding and better staffing levels to give students what they need.Take the state and local minimum wage laws that unions have fought for across the country, which have boosted wages for millions of workers. Take the multiple studies that have found that unions reduce income inequality.

Workers shouldn’t have to rely on having a nice boss. They shouldn’t have to be grateful for a living wage. Worker power should be a real thing in this country, and unions are the best way we’ve found to get there. On Labor Day, let’s remember that.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on September 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.
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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.