Unions are an essential part of a strong democracy and play a crucial role in America’s public and community life. Not only do they give workers a voice on the job and help negotiate fair benefits and wages for their members, but they also use their political and economic resources to raise the floor for everyone who works for a living.
Unions, by fighting for higher standards for workers, businesses, families, the environment, and public health and safety, have helped to build the middle class and make sure the economy works for everyone.
Unions Making a Difference for Everyone
Unions benefit all of America’s workers and strengthen our communities. Unions today:
Reinforce the middle class and lift up America’s communities. States with higher rates of unionization have lower rates of poverty, crime, and failing schools.1
Benefit local economic development. In partnerships with employers, community organizations, and local governments, unions have helped revitalize local economies by saving and expanding family-supporting jobs.
Raise wages for all workers. Studies show that a large union presence in an industry or region can raise wages even for non-union workers.2
Fight for all workers’ health and safety. In 2008 the AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers sued to get employers to provide personal protective equipment. Now, workers in hazardous jobs which require safety gear—like hard hats or protective glasses—must be provided this equipment, instead of being asked to buy it themselves.
Advocate for increases in the minimum wage and push for living wage ordinances. Unions have been instrumental in efforts to increase the federal minimum wage, state minimum wages and in the successful living wage movement which has already resulted in over 150 local living wage laws nationwide.
Reduce wage inequality. Unions raise wages the most for low- and middle-wage workers and workers without college degrees.3
Invest worker pension funds to rebuild communities In June 2006, the AFL-CIO launched the Gulf Coast Revitalization Program, a $1 billion housing and economic development program to create low- and moderate-income housing, a low-cost mortgage program, health facilities, job training services, and thousands of high-wage union jobs throughout the region. The Gulf Coast program builds on the success of similar AFL-CIO investment strategies to develop affordable housing in Chicago and to help New York City recover from the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11th. Union pension funds invested $750 million in post-9/11 New York.4
Are crucial in passing legislation benefiting all workers, including:
- Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, providing an increase in the federal minimum wage.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, a comprehensive federal law ensuring safety in the workplace.
- Workers’ compensation laws, giving workers injured on the job medical coverage and compensation for lost time.
- Mine safety laws strengthening mine safety standards and protecting the rights of mine workers.
- The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, creating the 40-hour work week and the first minimum wage.
- The Social Security Act of 1935, providing benefits to unemployed and retired workers.
Earn higher wages. Union members earn 30% more than non-union workers.
Have more training. Union workers are more likely to have access to formal, on-the-job training, making employees more skilled and adding to productivity.5
Have safer workplaces. Union workers are often better trained on health and safety rules and union workplaces are more likely to enforce Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.6
Are more likely to receive workers’ compensation. Union members also get their benefits faster, and return to work more quickly.7 When workers are injured, unions help workers through the often complicated process of filing for workers’ compensation and protect workers from employer retaliation.
Have health insurance Nearly 80% of unionized workers receive employer-provided health insurance, compared with 49% of non-union workers. Union members are also more likely to have short-term disability and life insurance coverage.
- Kathleen O’Leary and Scott Morgan, State Rankings 2002, U.S. Department of Labor.
- Lawrence Mishel with Matthew Walters, How Unions Help All Workers, EPI Briefing Paper #143 Aug. 2003; Henry S. Farber Are Unions Still a Threat? Wages and the Decline of Unions, 1973-2001, Princeton University Working Paper, 2002; Robert C. Johansson and Jay S. Coggins, “Union Density Effects in the Supermarket Industry,” Journal of Labor Research 23.4 (Fall 2002).
- Mishel and Walters; John Schmitt, The Union Advantage for Low-Wage Workers, Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2008.
- Croft, Thomas, “Saving Jobs and Investing in Labor’s Future: The Steel Valley Authority,” Perspectives on Work (Summer), 2004.
- Harley Frazis, Maury Gittleman, Michael Horrigan, and Mary Joyce, “Employer-Provided Training: Results from a New Survey,” Monthly Labor Review 3-17 (May 1995).
- David Weil, “Enforcing OSHA: The Role of Labor Unions,” Industrial Relations 30.1 (1991): 20-36.
- Barry T. Hirsch, David A. Macpherson, and J. Michael Dumond, “Workers’ Compensation Recipiency in Union and Nonunion Workplaces,” Industrial Labor Relations Review 50.2: 213-36; The Worker’s Story: Results of a Survey of Workers Injured in Wisconsin, Workers Compensation Research Institute, Dec. 1998.