Information Compiled by: AFL-CIO
Union Workers Have Better Health Care and Pensions
Union workers are more likely than their nonunion counterparts to receive health care and pension benefits, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1999, 73 percent of union workers in private industry participated in medical care benefits, compared with only 51 percent of nonunion workers. Union workers also are more likely to have retirement and short-term disability benefits.
As the chart below illustrates, 79 percent of union workers are covered by pension plans versus 44 percent of nonunion workers. Seventy percent of union workers have defined-benefit retirement coverage, compared with 16 percent of nonunion workers. (Defined-benefit plans are federally insured and provide a guaranteed monthly pension amount. They are better for workers than defined-contribution plans, in which the benefit amount depends on how well the underlying investments perform.)
HEALTH AND PENSION BENEFITS, 1999
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employee Benefits in Private Industry, 1999. USDL: 01-473. Dec. 19, 2001. Prepared by the AFL-CIO.
Unions Raises Wages—Especially for Minorities and Women
Union membership helps raise workers' pay and narrow the income gap that disadvantages minorities and women. Union workers earn 27 percent more than nonunion workers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their median weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary work were $760 in 2003, compared with $599 for their nonunion counterparts.
The union wage benefit is even greater for minorities and women. Union women earn 33 percent more than nonunion women, African American union members earn 35 percent more than their nonunion counterparts, for Latino workers, the union advantage totals 51 percent and for Asian workers, the union advantage is 11 percent.
WAGE AND SALARY WORKERS, 2003
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Earnings, January 2004.
Prepared by the AFL-CIO
Union Pay Is Higher in Nearly All Occupational Groups
In nearly every occupational category, union members earn more than nonunion workers. By comparing the wages of workers within occupational groups, the union difference is most clear.
Workers' Incomes Are Lower in States Where Workers Don't Have Union Rights
In states that have laws restricting workers' rights to form strong unions, the average pay for all workers is lower. So-called "right-to-work" laws that limit workers' rights to collectively bargain contracts (including wages and benefits) are a bad deal for all workers. In 2002, average pay in so-called "right-to-work" states was 15 percent lower than in states where workers have the freedom to form strong unions.
Annual Average Pay, 2002
Note: Right-to-work states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Average annual wages for 2001 and 2002 for all covered workers by state. Includes workers covered by unemployment insurance and Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) programs.
Prepared by the AFL-CIO.
Unions Are Good for Productivity
Unions increase productivity, according to most recent studies. The voice that union members have on the job—sharing in decision-making about promotions and work and production standards—increases productivity and improves management practices. Better training, lower turnover and longer tenure also make union workers more productive.
Union Workers Have Greater Job Stability
Although nearly 50 percent of union workers have been with their current employers for at least 10 years, only 22 percent of nonunion workers can make the same claim. Union workers have greater job stability, in part because they're more satisfied with their jobs, receive better pay, have better benefits and have access to fair grievance procedures. Even more important, most collective bargaining agreements protect union members from unjust discharge. Nonunion workers are "employees at will" who can be fired at any time for any reason—or for no reason.
Percentage of Workers with the Same Employer
for 10 Years or More, 1998
Source: AFL-CIO analysis of the Current Population Survey, Supplement on Displaced Workers, Job Tenure and Occupational Mobility, February 1998.
Prepared by the AFL-CIO.
How Unions Help Bring Low-Wage Workers Out of Poverty
Union members in low-wage occupations on average earn a great deal more than nonunion workers in the same occupations, often lifting their earnings rates above the official poverty level. For example, union cashiers may earn $10.97 per hour, 36 percent more than nonunion workers in the same occupation. Over a year’s time, having a union card could translate into almost $6,100 more in pay for such a low-wage worker.
Union workers also often gain better benefits, including health insurance and pensions. While not a total cure, union membership can go a long way toward worker self-sufficiency in today’s economy.
Unions Are Important for Women
Overall, 11.4 percent of working women are union members, compared with 14.3 percent of male workers. While the number of women union members has risen from 5.9 million in 1983 to 6.7 million in 2003 (a 14 percent increase), women still are under-represented in unions. Women make up 43 percent of union membership, but they account for 48 percent of the total workforce.
Women's under representation in unions is partly due to their over representation in part-time jobs and nonstandard work arrangements, such as contingent work, that are characterized by low union coverage.
Like minorities, women have much to gain from union membership. Collective bargaining can win fair treatment on the job, and the union wage advantage narrows the historic pay gap between men and women.
PERCENTAGE OF EMPLOYMENT, 2003
Membership as Percentage of Payrolls
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment and Earnings, January 2004.
Prepared by the AFL-CIO.
Videos on labor and union history
Berkley University: Labor and Labor History Videography. THIRTY SIX pages of videos on the labor movement.
Merrimack Films: Producer and Distributor of Videos on Labor Relations
American Labor Studies: Finding media on unions and the history of unions
(Military union busting was very common for much of the late 19th and early 20th century, read Zinn's book: A People's History of the United States for more on this subject. Zinn, in his book recommends Philip Foner's History of the Labor Movement in the U.S.)
Another book which describes ten labor struggles before the 1930's: American Labor Struggles by Samuel Yellen, recommended by Zinn in Declarations of Independence: Cross Examining American Ideology
(History of unions moved here)