How Strong Unions Help All Workers

Building The Middle Class

Workers fight for the right to organize to tilt the balance of power from employers to workers, to provide due process procedures, and to ensure that workers earn a living wage to support a family.

While the costs of unions are often brought up, politicians and the voting public must also consider the benefits of unions.Ā The Illinois Economic Policy Institute has provenĀ thatĀ unions can increase economic efficiency. Examples of unions positively improving the economy for the better include:

  • Union workers earn higher wages and increase consumer demand;
  • Unions reduce socially inefficient levels of income inequality;
  • Unions fight against all forms of discrimination. They believe in equal pay for equal work, no matter your gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation;
  • Union workers receive less government assistance;
  • Union workers contribute more in income taxes;
  • Unions increase productivity in construction, manufacturing, and education;
  • Unions reduce employee turnover rates; and
  • Unions fight against child labor and for public education.

Comparison between Union and Non-UnionĀ Households

Union households are different from non-union households. Compared to individuals in non-union households, American residents in union households are:

  • Older, more African-American, less Latino or Latina, and more likely to be married;
  • More likely to have an advanced (masterā€™s, professional, or doctorate) degree;
  • More likely to have a job, work more weeks and hours, earn more money per year, work in the public sector, and identify as ā€œworking class;ā€ and
  • Happier, more likely to think some luck or help from others contributes to individual success, and have more confidence in science, organized religion, and organized labor but less confidence in Congress.

The Need for Strong Labor Unions

Since 2006, unionization has declined in Illinois, in the Chicago region, and in America.Ā There are approximately 84,000 fewer union members in Illinois today than there were in 2006, contributing to the 573,000-member drop in union workers across the nation over that time.

Labor unions increase individual incomes by lifting hourly wages ā€“ particularly for low-income workers. In Illinois, unions raise worker wages by an average of 10.1 percent. The stateā€™s union wage effect is the 17th -highest in the nation. The union wage differential is higher for the bottom 10 percent of workers (10.4 percent) than the richest 10 percent of workers (8.4 percent), helping to reduce income inequality.

Organized labor still plays a vital role in Illinoisā€™ economy and communities. The Illinois labor movement, however, will continue to face both short- and long-term challenges. In the short term, there are political pressures to weaken unions through various legislative and corporate measures. Over the long term, the trend of declining union membership rates may persist. Laborā€™s response to these challenges could define its influence and effectiveness in the decades to come.

Value of Apprenticeship Programs

Enrolling in a registered apprenticeship program is a better option than attending college or university.Ā The annual income gain from participating in a registered apprenticeship program is $3,442 on average, or $119,850 in additional income over the course of the workerā€™s career after accounting for out-of-pocket upfront costs. In Illinois, this impact on wages is greater than the average effect of having an associateā€™s degree ($542 per year) and many bachelorā€™s degreesā€“ including social work ($3,199 per year), English language and composition ($2,521 per year), and linguistics and foreign languages ($2,338 per year).

In many states, joint labor-management apprenticeship programs account for the vast majority of human capital investment in the construction industry. For example, in Illinois in FY2015, 98.5 percent of all construction apprentices were enrolled in joint programs by union contractors. Joint labor-management apprenticeship programs also comprise 99.2 percent of all privately-funded apprenticeship expenditures in Illinois.

The programs directly provide 2,871 jobs for instructors and other employees. Through program expenditures and the net on-the-job earnings of participants, registered apprenticeship programs save or create nearly 5,000 total jobs in Illinois and annually boost the stateā€™s economy by $408.7 million.

Analysis from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. For further reading:

Unions Can Increase Efficiency: Ten Examples

Union and Nonunion Households: General Social Survey, 2000-2012

The State of the Unions 2016: A Profile of Unionization in Chicago, in Illinois, and in America

The State of the Unions 2016: A Profile of Unionization in Indianapolis, in Indiana, and in AmericaĀ 

The State of the Unions 2016: A Profile of Unionization in Iowa and America

The Impact of Apprenticeship Programs in Illinois: An Analysis of Economic and Social Effects


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