Union vs. nonunion Who wins? Here’s your answer

In a non-union workplace:
The employer makes all the rules, sets all the wage rates, and makes all the decisions on things like discipline, promotions, and hours of work. The worker has no voice.

In a union workplace:
The union bargains with the employer for a contract, and then makes sure that the contract is carried out. Your collective bargaining agreement is a contract. Contracts are legal documents between you and your employer that spell out wages, benefits, and rules of employment.

Union members are far more likely to have higher wages, paid sick days, affordable health insurance and retirement benefits. For most union members, their union job means they can pay their mortgage and provide for their kids. A union job also means there is extra money for parents to send their kids to summer camp, enroll them in pre-kindergarten, and save for college.

Paid sick days and affordable health insurance means a parent can care for a sick child and take the child to the emergency room without fear of cost. Union membership also makes it possible for women to raise a family on their own, if necessary. For women, a union job also means a voice in the workplace to address issues like the gender wage gap.

Wages and Benefits
Workers represented by unions bring home bigger paychecks than nonunion workers. Union members earned 27 percent more than nonunion members did in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This “union advantage” — more money in union members’ paychecks — exists in almost every occupation, from service and factory workers to clerical and professional employees. Today’s unions mean even more for minorities. In 2014, Black and African American union members earned 33 percent more, Asian union members earned three percent more, and the union advantage was a staggering 42 percent for Hispanic and Latino workers.

Union members have greater access to medical and retirement benefits as well as paid sick leave and life insurance.

In 2014, 94 percent of union members working full-time had access to employer provided medical benefits. Only 65 percent of nonunion members working full-time had access to employer-provided medical benefits.

Medical benefits for families were also more affordable for union members. Union employees paid 16 percent of the premium for family coverage. Nonunion member medical plans required employees to pay 35 percent of the premiums for family coverage in 2015.

In retirement, union members are much more likely to enjoy secure retirement benefits. In 2015, 94 percent of union members had access to a retirement plan, while only 65 percent of nonunion workers had access. Among union members who had access to a plan, 85 percent participated, compared to 48 percent of nonunion workers. The majority of union members participate in defined-benefit plans. Because union members are better paid during their working years, they earn larger pensions — and have a better chance to save for retirement.

Union members are far less likely to have to choose between caring for their health and losing their jobs. In 2015, 85 percent of union members had paid sick leave, compared to only 62 percent of nonunion workers.

Most union members, 86 percent, had access to life insurance benefits through their job, compared to just 56 percent of nonunion workers. The vast majority of workers who had access to life insurance participated in the plan, signaling the value of the benefit.

The union difference for women
Women are now a large portion of union members in the U.S. In 1989, women made up 36 percent of all union members; by 2013, that increased to 46 percent. Women made up 57 percent of all union members in professional and related occupations in 2014.

Many of those women worked in community and social service (64 percent of the workforce), education, training, and libraries (74 percent), and healthcare practitioner and technical occupations (74 percent).

These three occupation groups also had above average union density in 2013. Increased union density has meant higher pay and benefits for work that was historically lower paying because it was considered “women’s work.” Union members in these three occupation groups earned median weekly wages that were between 11 and 28 percent more than their nonunion counterparts in 2014.

This wage differential makes it possible for professional union women to adequately support themselves and their families and attain all the benefits and stability of a middle-class lifestyle. In 2014, union women earned 33 percent more than nonunion women did.

Black and African American, Asian, and Hispanic and Latina women also benefit significantly from union membership: Median weekly earnings of Black and African American union women were 34 percent more than their nonunion counterparts.

Median weekly earnings for Asian women who were union members in 2013 were 14 percent more than their nonunion counterparts. Hispanic and Latina women who were union members had median weekly earnings that were 46 percent higher than their nonunion counterparts.

Union membership narrows wage gap
The difference between men and women’s earnings has a significant impact on the lifetime earnings potential and retirement benefits of women. Unions have been successful in helping to close the wage gap over the last 40 years. In 2013, the wage gap in mean hourly earnings among all workers 16 and over was 21 percent among nonunion workers and 10 percent among union members.

The wage gap between nonunion White male workers and nonunion Black and African American male workers was 28 percent in 2014. Union membership narrowed this wage gap to 11 percent among White and Black male workers in 2014.

Conclusion: Labor unions are crucial to millions of working families.

With unions, working people are more likely to balance both their budgets and their schedules. Balancing the demands of work and family is a challenge for most working Americans, and unions today help working people achieve that balance.

Union members earn higher wages, have greater access to paid sick leave, pay less for family health insurance coverage, and have access to a comfortable retirement. For union women, union membership means they are significantly closer to closing the gender wage gap.

Sources researched by the AFL-CIO are the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; Bureau of National Affairs, “Union Membership and Earnings Data Book.”

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