Over the past decade, approval of labor unions has surged by about 16-17 percentage points across all parties.
Democrats are still more likely to support unions, with approval standing at around 80 percent among self-identified party supporters. A little under half of Republicans now support unions, up from 29 percent in 2009.
“If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Over 16 million working women and men in the United States are exercising this right—these 16 million workers are represented by unions. Overall, more than one in nine U.S. workers are represented by unions. This representation makes organized labor one of the largest institutions in America.*
‘Collective bargaining’ is how working people gain a voice at work and the power to shape their working lives
While managers. business owners and CEOs organize to advocate for their economic interests through chambers of commerce, business associations and national trade associations, unions provide working people with an opportunity to be heard in policy debates that shape their lives. Traditionally when Americans have wanted to make the economy fairer and more responsive to the needs of workers, they joined unions to do so. It’s a critical part of American democracy.
Unions have fought for and continue to strengthen many of the humane standards that protect Americans in improve their lives such as:
- Social Security,
- child labor laws,
- anti-discrimination laws,
- health and safety laws,
- unemployment insurance,
- compensations for workers who get hurt on the job,
- the 40-hour work week,
- and the federal minimum wage.
Additionally, unions have been a major force behind many of the laws on discrimination, housing and voting rights. But more than that, Unions reduce inequality and improve middle incomes. See the chart below.
Unions reduce inequality and are essential for low- and middle-wage workers’ ability to obtain a fair share of economic growth
This chart shows that when unions are weak, the highest incomes go up even more, but when unions are strong, middle incomes go up.
Research by EPI and other institutions shows this correlation is no accident. First, unions have strong positive effects not only on the wages of union workers but also on the wages of comparable nonunion workers, as unions set standards for entire industries and occupations. Second, unions make wages among occupations more equal because they give a larger wage boost to low- and middle-wage occupations than to high-wage occupations. Third, unions make wages of workers with similar characteristics more equal because of the standards unions set. Fourth, unions have historically been more likely to organize middle-wage than high-wage workers, which lowers inequality by closing gaps between, say, blue-collar and white-collar workers. Finally, the union wage boost is largest for low-wage workers and larger at the middle than at the highest wage levels, larger for black and Hispanic workers than for white workers, and larger for those with lower levels of education—wage increases for these groups help narrow wage inequalities.**
No wonder unions have been increasing in popularity lately!
So keep America’s unions strong. An informed and involved union member is a strong union member.
May all of you Feel the Power…
May all of you Be the Power…
And, may all of you Use the Power.
*In 2016 there were 16.3 million wage and salary workers age 16 and older who were represented by a union, either because they were union members or (if they weren’t union members) were in jobs covered by a union or an employee association contract. The share of workers who belonged to a union was 10.7 percent, and the share of workers covered by collective bargaining was 11.9 percent. (Source: EPI analysis of Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group [CPS ORG] data for all workers age 16 and older).
**The classic reference for the union impact on inequality, and many other matters, is Richard B. Freeman and James l. Medoff, What Do Unions Do? (New York: Basic Books, 1984). Also see Brantly Callaway and William J. Collins, “Unions, Workers, and Wages at the Peak of the American Labor Movement,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper no. 23516, June 2017, for evidence from the early postwar period. More recent estimates of union wage premiums by wage fifth, occupation, and education can be found in Lawrence Mishel, Josh Bivens, Elise Gould, and Heidi Shierholz, The State of Working America, 12th Edition, an Economic Policy Institute book (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 2012), Table 4.37.