EPI Reminds Nation How Unions Help Workers

Just in time for Labor Day, the Economic Policy Institute again reminded its readers “today’s unions help working people” by “giving them the power to improve their jobs and unrig the economy” from corporate dominance.

Whether policymakers in Washington and many state capitals are listening is dubious.

Congress’ ruling Republicans deep-six pro-worker legislation on Capitol Hill and right-wing dominated state governments in Missouri, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, among others, forge ahead with anti-union laws.

Yet, that didn’t stop EPI’s 12 analysts from trumpeting the ways unions help workers.

 “Unions raise workers’ wages and strengthen their rights at work, but they also give working people a voice in our democracy,” said retiring EPI President Lawrence Mishel. “We will never again see consistent robust middle-class wage growth or a healthy democracy without first rebuilding collective bargaining.”

EPI calculated an average worker with a union contract earns 13.2 percent more in wages than a peer with similar education, occupation, and experience in a nonunion workplace in that sector.

But even the non-union workers gain when a sector has a big union presence, as the non-union employers must “pay more to retain qualified workers, and norms of higher pay and better conditions become standard.”

“By exercising their freedom to join together and negotiate their wages and working conditions, workers gain a voice through their union,” Policy Director Heidi Shierholz explained. “But that freedom is increasingly under threat. Anyone who supports working people or a healthy democracy should stand up and support unions and collective bargaining.”

But with unions now representing one out of every nine workers overall, and one of every 16 in the private sector, wages have stagnated for the last several decades and declined for the lowest-paid, Mishel said. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and the rest of us grew.

“The lack of collective worker power helps explain why wages have been stagnant for the past 40 years, and why working people are so frustrated, as they have not reaped any of the gains of an improving economy,” he added.

“Unions help close racial wage gaps, by creating pay transparency, correcting salary discrepancies, establishing clearer terms for raises and promotions, disproportionately boosting the wages of lower-wage workers, and helping workers who have been discriminated against achieve equity.

 “Hourly wages for women represented by unions are 9.2 percent higher on average than for comparable nonunionized women, and black and Hispanic workers get a disproportionate boost from unionization compared with their white counterparts,” EPI reported. The study is available on its website, www.epi.org.