This Labor Day, let’s remember a few things, starting with one big one: If every eligible worker in the United States were part of a union, the nation would be a much more equal, healthy place.
It’s not just wages, though unionized workers do earn, on average, 10.2% more than equivalent workers in their industries. It’s also that workers in unions are much more likely than non-union workers to have employer-provided health insurance: 95% to 69%. And paid sick days: 92% to 77%.
Unions also help close racial and gender gaps. “Black workers represented by a union are paid 13.1% more than their nonunionized peers. Hispanic workers represented by unions are paid 18.8% more than their nonunionized peers,” the Economic Policy Institute’s Celine McNicholas and Eve Tahmincioglu note. Additionally, “Hourly wages for women represented by a union are 4.7% higher on average than for nonunionized women with comparable characteristics.”
But in addition to those advantages of union membership for union members, union strength benefits the broader public.
States with higher union density—where a higher proportion of workers are represented by unions—have higher minimum wages: 19% higher than the national average and 40% higher than the states with the lowest union density. That’s in part because unions have waged a long fight to raise the minimum wage, both nationally and state by state. On top of that, the median annual income in high-density states is $6,000 higher than the national average. It’s not all because of the minimum wage plus the higher wages of union workers: It’s also that when non-union employers have to compete for workers with union employers, the bar is raised.
When unions decline, inequality grows: “Research shows that deunionization accounts for a sizable share of the growth in inequality between typical (median) workers and workers at the high end of the wage distribution in recent decades—on the order of 13–20% for women and 33–37% for men.”
Building worker power builds power for all workers. And we all need that—nice bosses are not good enough (and most bosses are not that nice).