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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:
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.
1.Kathleen O’Leary and Scott Morgan, State Rankings 2002, U.S. Department of Labor.
2. 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).
3. Mishel and Walters; John Schmitt, The Union Advantage for Low-Wage Workers, Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2008.
4. Croft, Thomas, “Saving Jobs and Investing in Labor’s Future: The Steel Valley Authority,” Perspectives on Work (Summer), 2004.
5. Harley Frazis, Maury Gittleman, Michael Horrigan, and Mary Joyce, “Employer-Provided Training: Results from a New Survey,” Monthly Labor Review 3-17 (May 1995).
6. David Weil, "Enforcing OSHA: The Role of Labor Unions," Industrial Relations 30.1 (1991): 20-36.
7. 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.
A union presence can have significant benefits for business. As CEO Bill Zahner, of architectural metal company A. Zahner put it, "I know that working with the union can save dollars and get me the most talented work." Unions not only make workplaces safer and more productive, but also raise professional standards and work with management to keep companies in business. Unions:
Make the workplace more productive. Across the economy, unions raise productivity by 19% to 24% in manufacturing, 16% in hospitals, and between 17% and 38% in the construction sector.1
Partner with companies to increase efficiency and productivity.
Make workplaces safer. 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.2
Work with management to keep businesses up and running.
Decrease turnover. Because unions improve communication in the workplace, workers can improve their situation without leaving, and unionized plants have less turnover.4
Raise professional standards and increase opportunities for worker training. Workplaces with unions are more likely to offer formal training,5 and many unions operate their own training programs.
1. Dale Belman, “Unions, the Quality of Labor Relations, and Firm Performance,” in Unions and Economic Competitiveness, Lawrence Mishel and Paula B. Voos, eds., Armonk NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, 41-107
2.David Weil, "Enforcing OSHA: The Role of Labor Unions," Industrial Relations 30.1 (1991): 20-36.
3. Thomas Croft, "Saving Jobs and Investing in Labor's Future: The Steel Valley Authority," Perspectives on Work, Summer 2004.
4. Belman; Harley Shaiken, “The High Road to a Competitive Economy: A Labor Law Strategy,” Center for American Progress, June 25, 2004, pp. 7-8.
5. Harley J. Frazis, Diane E. Herz, and Michael W. Horrigan, “Employer-Provided Training: Results from a New Survey,” Monthly Labor Review 3–17; May 1995.
Unions support America’s families. Good union jobs give working families security and flexibility in a changing economy, and unions help enact workplace protections—like paid sick leave, family leave, and medical leave—that are crucial for all working families. Specifically, unions:
Support military families.
Help lift families out of poverty. Unions raise wages the most for low- and middle-wage workers.1 They also benefit young workers: union workers between 18 amnd 29 earn 12.4 percent more and have better benefits than their nonunion counterparts.2
Provide workers with job security when they need to respond to family care emergencies. One study reviewed 99 union arbitrations involving the employees who were fired or disciplined for missing work due to family care needs. The study found that in all but one case, the union’s filing of a grievance led to overturned dismissals or reduced discipline.4
Give workers the right to alternative work arrangements—such as flexible hours, telecommuting, and compressed work weeks—which allow workers to balance family and childcare needs with work schedules. Union members also receive 14% more paid time off than non-union employees.5
Increase workers’ access to childcare by creating childcare centers in the workplace, lobbying for childcare subsidies, and providing workers with childcare benefits through collective bargaining agreements.
Help pass legislation important to working families, including:
1. Lawrence Mishel with Matthew Walters,“How Unions Help All Workers," EPI Briefing Paper #143 Aug. 2003; John Schmitt, "The Union Advantage for Low-Wage Workers," Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2008.
2. John Schmitt, "Unions and Upward Mobility for Young Workers," Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2008.
3. Eric Parker, “Workforce Development and Family-Supporting Jobs: The Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership,” Perspectives on Work, Summer 2004.
4. Joan Williams, “One Sick Child Away From Being Fired: When "Opting Out" Is Not an Option,” Worklife Law, UC Hastings College of Law, 2006
5.Mishel and Walters
Unions help create healthy, sustainable communities which protect workers, the public, and the natural world. Unions:
Partner with environmental groups to protect workers, the environment and the community.
Hold corporations accountable for pollution that damages worker and community health, as well as the natural environment. As leaders of the Blue Green Alliance, the United Steelworkers and Sierra Club not only support green-collar jobs and fair trade, but work to reduce toxic chemicals in the workplace and the environment. The Blue Green Alliance:
Alert the public to environmental hazards that might otherwise stay hidden. At a DuPont plant in Niagara Falls, NY, members of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers (PACE) were instrumental in exposing environmental and safety hazards.1
Fight for federal regulations that protect workers and communities. In 2004, the Sierra Club and UNITE HERE supported stronger regulations for the laundry industry to protect both the community water supply and the workers who handle toxic chemicals.
Support increased fuel efficiency standards and production of hybrid vehicles.
Combat the spread of suburban sprawl, advocating instead for smart growth initiatives that call for reinvestment in our urban centers and public transportation systems.2
Use collective bargaining to reduce the environmental footprint of America’s workplaces. SEIU advocates use of green cleaning products, public transportation benefits, and daytime cleaning of buildings, which reduces energy costs as well as benefiting workers’ health.
1. E.I.Dupont de Nemours & Co, Inc. (Niagara Plant Employees Union
and PACE Local 1-5025) Niagara Falls, NY, May 28, 2004, 3-CA-23449 et
2. Good Jobs First, Labor Leaders as Smart Growth Advocates, Aug. 2003.
Unions work to keep us healthy. Healthcare workers’ unions make clinics and hospitals safer, more efficient, and more responsive to patient needs. And the labor movement is out in front in the campaign for affordable, quality health care for all. Unions:
Improve quality of patient care.
Enforce adequate hospital staffing levels. Studies show that surgical patients are more likely to die when nurse staffing levels are low,2 but higher nurse staffing is associated with shorter hospital stays3 and fewer patient complications.4 Nurses and their unions ensure higher staffing levels by bargaining for minimum staffing ratios and supporting nurse-patient ratio legislation at the state and federal level.
Keep patients safe by supporting prohibitions on mandatory overtime for healthcare professionals. Among nurses, long shifts and working overtime at the end of a shift coincide with an increased rate of errors such as administering the wrong medication or dosage.5
Address the nation’s nursing shortage. The support and better working conditions that unions provide ensure that more trained nurses remain in the profession.
Improve communication at hospitals and ease the process of implementing new hospital practices through labor-management committees.6
Lead the fight for quality, affordable healthcare for all. Unions educate voters, lobby Congress, and urge companies with union contracts to support affordable, quality health care.
1. Michael Ash and Jean Ann Seago, “The Effect of Registered Nurses' Unions on Heart-Attack Mortality,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 57.3: 422-442.
2. Linda Aiken, PhD, RN, “Hospital Nurse Staffing and Patient Mortality, Nurse Burnout, and Job Dissatisfaction,” Journal of the American Medical Association, Oct. 22, 2002.
3. Jack Needleman, PhD, Peter Buerhaus, PhD, RN, Nurse Staffing and Patient Outcomes in Hospitals, Harvard School of Public Health, 2001.
4. Jack Needleman, PhD, Peter Buerhaus, PhD, RN, et al, “Nurse Staffing Nurse-Staffing Levels and Quality of Care in Hospitals,” The New England Journal of Medicine, May 30, 2002.
5. Ann E. Rogers, et al, “The Working Hours Of Hospital Staff Nurses And Patient Safety,” Health Affairs, 23.4 (Jul/Aug2004): 202-212.
6. Gil Preuss,“Committing to Care: Labor-Management Cooperation and Hospital Restructuring, Economic Policy Institute, 1998.
Unions can be a powerful force for equality. Collective bargaining cuts down on employer favoritism, which helps women and people of color get a fair chance at work. Unions protect workers’ rights regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and union membership lifts wages significantly for women and people of color. Unions:
Help pass legislation key to equal rights, including:
Defend the rights of women in the workplace, fighting discrimination and working for wage equality.
Support equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
Oppose discrimination and firing based on immigration status and speak out against illegal detentions and human rights abuses. Many unions support comprehensive immigration reform, and unionized immigrant workers make 17% more than their non-union peers.Have clear economic benefits for people of color.
Boost working women’s earning power.
1. John Schmitt, Unions and Upward Mobility for Latino Workers, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Sept. 2008
2. John Schmitt, Unions and Upward Mobility for African-American Workers, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Apr. 2008
3. John Schmitt, Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Dec. 2008
American Rights at Work is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the freedom of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with employers.