New Report Shows Unions are a Pathway to the American Dream

When you’re in a union, you can feel the power of having a voice on the job. Rent going up higher than your wage? Take a seat at the table with your fellow union members and negotiate a raise to keep up with cost of living. Concerned that someone could get hurt due to an unsafe area at work? A union contract means you can sound the alarm to make your workplace safer without losing your job. Unions can make your day-to-day life better and provide a path to the American Dream. By growing and strengthening the middle class, unions also make our economy better for all.

A ground-breaking new report by the UC Berkeley Labor Center underscores the advantages of union membership in California. While the research focuses on the Golden State, the outcomes are critical to understand for our entire nation. California is both the fifth largest economy in the world and one of the states with the highest union density. It’s clear that when working people can stand together in a union, the benefits are astronomical for everyone.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Workers covered by a union contract in California earn an average of 12.9 percent more than their non-union peers with similar ages and educational attainment working in similar industries.
  • Overall, a union contract increases an individual worker’s annual earnings by $5,800, for a combined total of $18.5 billion across California. In low-income regions like the San Joaquin Valley, the difference is more dramatic, increasing a worker’s earnings on average by $7,000 each year.
  • 670,000 more Californians have health insurance through their employer as a result of collective bargaining.
  • 830,000 more Californians are offered a retirement plan by their employer as a result of collective bargaining.
  • Unions decrease by 30.6 percent the likelihood that a worker is in a family where at least one member is enrolled in a public safety net program, compared to non-union workers with similar demographic characteristics and working in similar industries.
  • Unions decrease by 30.9 percent the likelihood that a worker is in a family with at least one member enrolled in Medi-Cal, compared to non-union workers with similar demographic characteristics and working in similar industries.

After a recent Supreme Court decision that attacks the fundamental right of workers to hold bosses accountable for workplace exploitation and abuses, this report is very timely. Ken Jacobs, Chair of the Labor Center and a co-author of the report:

“Collective bargaining remains the last chance entry to prosperity in the face of falling middle class income and anti-worker laws, such as last week’s Supreme Court ruling that strips workers of their right to sue collectively,” said Ken Jacobs, Labor Center chair and co-author of the report. “Our report shows that on average, a California worker earns $5,800 more annually when they are in a union.”

Profits for the wealthy are at an all-time high. The average CEO made 361 times more than the average worker in 2017. Income inequality is soaring and working families are struggling to make ends meet. The solution is clear: when working people stand together in their union, they have a chance to earn a fair return for their hard work. Now is the time to embrace unions, organize, and negotiate strong contracts for more workers across the country. At every point in our history, unions built and protected the middle class. Thanks to the UC Berkeley Labor Center report, we know unions are as vital to our future as they’ve been to our past.

Stay tuned for more! This is just Part 1 in a three-part series from the UC Berkeley Labor Center!

Graphic from UC Berkeley Labor Center study