Pocan Op-Ed: Who Benefits From Strong Unions? Everyone.
By Rep. Mark Pocan
As we approach Labor Day, we should all remember the words of the late, great US Senator Paul Wellstone, "We all do better when we all do better." This clearly is the mission of the labor movement.
The story of unions is the story of America’s middle-class. Unions have been essential in gaining safer working conditions, better wages and benefits, and empowering workers to have a seat at the table.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, union workers’ wages are 27 percent greater than for non-union workers. Seventy-nine percent of unionized workers receive health insurance from their employers, compared to only 49 percent of non-union workers. Seventy-six percent of union workers have guaranteed defined-benefit pension plans, compared to only 16 percent of non-union workers. Eighty-three percent of union workers receive paid sick leave compared to only 62 percent of non-union workers.
There is no doubt that unions benefit working families, but since the 1970s, union membership has been in serious decline and we have seen wages stagnate. One of the root causes of declining wages is that workers’ ability to join together and bargain for higher wages and better working conditions has been has been severely undermined. We have also seen targeted attacks against unions by Republicans all across the country including the passage of so-called “right to work” laws, which further lower wages and weaken workplace protections.
A new report released this week from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) provides further evidence that the benefits of unions go way beyond their own members, by raising the wages of non-unionized workers as well. In fact, nonunion workers lose $133 billion annually due to the decline in unions, according to the report.
Traditionally, non-union employers needed to keep wages high in order to compete with union jobs. However, wage trends have shown the opposite is now true. Union jobs are now being forced to take lower wages to remain competitive in an economy dominated by non-union companies. It’s become a race to the bottom at the expense of hard-working Americans.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
As we celebrate Labor Day this upcoming weekend, we must renew and refocus our efforts to strengthen our unions and ensure our economy works for middle class families, not just for shareholders and corporate bottom lines.
There are common-sense reforms we can enact to restore bargaining rights and safeguard a seat at the table for employees. This is why I introduced the Workplace Democracy Act with Senator Bernie Sanders, which would make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.
We should also pass the WAGE Act, a bill I’ve cosponsored, which was introduced by Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Bobby Scott. This bill would triple the back-pay employers must pay to workers who are fired or retaliated against by their employers, regardless of immigration status.
Renewing our focus on the American worker also means fighting against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Every time an American job is shipped out of the country due to bad trade deals, it pushes down the wages for workers in the United States.
While the American workforce faces many hurdles, we can continue building the middle class by strengthening the labor movement. When unions are strong, America is strong. They raise standards across all industries, increasing the wages of both unionized and non-unionized workers. And that leads to one thing — that we all do better when we all do better.