A new report shows that higher unionization rates are also associated with improved conditions outside of the workplace, including better access to healthcare, paid leave, and the ballot box.
"Unions promote economic equality and build worker power, helping workers to win increases in pay, better benefits, and safer working conditions," said Asha Banerjee, economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and co-author of the report. "But the benefits of unions extend far beyond the workplace. The data suggest that unions also give workers a voice in shaping their communities and political representation."
To document the correlation between organized labor and various indicators of economic, personal, and democratic well-being, researchers at EPI compared Census Bureau data on minimum wages, median annual incomes, access to unemployment insurance, lack of health insurance, Medicaid expansion, paid sick and family leave laws, and voter suppression laws in states with "high" (13.5% to 24.7%), "medium" (8.3% to 13/3%), and "low" (3.2% to 7.7%) levels of union density. All 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia were sorted into three equally sized categories based on their average level of union density—defined as the percentage of workers in a state who are members of a union or covered by a collective bargaining agreement—from 2015 to 2019.
"The 17 U.S. states with the highest union densities have state minimum wages that are on average 19% higher than the national average and 40% higher than those in low-union-density states," says the report.
"Unions," the authors emphasize, "have played a central role in organizing and mobilizing campaigns to increase state and local minimum wages." The Service Employees International Union, for instance, "has had a crucial role in the successful national Fight for $15 campaign," helping to win raises for millions of workers nationwide.
Researchers noted that "Black, Hispanic, and Asian American/Pacific Islander women—along with Black and brown workers as a whole, who have long been overrepresented in low-wage service sectors—have benefited disproportionately from these efforts."
EPI also found that "high-union-density states had an average median income about $6,000 higher than the national average," while "the low-union-density states had an average median income about $6,500 lower than the national average"—resulting in a gap of more than $12,000 between the two groups of states.
Moreover, "unemployed workers are twice as likely to receive unemployment benefits if they live in high-union-density states than if they live in low-union-density states," according to EPI.
The report finds that residents of high-union-density states are more likely to have health insurance, with an average uninsured rate of 6.8%, compared with 11.3% in low-union-density states.
All 17 high-union-density states elected to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. By contrast, just five low-union-density states did so.
EPI tells a similar story with respect to paid sick and family leave policies.
"Building union density is not just a worker or workplace issue, but it is also a mechanism to uplift families and communities," researchers added.
Unions Make Life Better at Work and Beyond, New Report Shows (commondreams.org)
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