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  • Study: Unions Benefit Workers In Myriad Ways, Regardless of Union Membership
    Updated On: Sep 12, 2016

    By JoAnne Powers, September 13th, 2016

    The Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute’s new report showing that union decline in the U.S. has cost non-union workers billions of dollars every year suggests that unions directly affect working conditions for non-union workers in a number of ways.  Washington University Associate Professor of Sociology Jake Rosenfeld is a co-author of the report:

    [Jake Rosenfeld]: “Unions often set industry-wide wage and benefit standards.  A strong union presence prompts managers to keep wages high in order to prevent their own workers from organizing, or to prevent their workers from leaving, to going kind-of next door to the organized firm where they can enjoy higher wages and better benefit packages.”

    One of the key implications of the study is that unions are instrumental in crafting policies that improve the livelihoods of workers who are not members:

    [Jake Rosenfeld]: “If you find a regulatory, legislative or employer-driven improvement for working men and women over these past couple of years, you’ll likely find union pressure and participation behind it: labor-backed policy experts working with the Obama administration in drafting new overtime rules that will raise the pay of millions of non-union workers.  You can look at New York’s 2015 fast-food wage increase.  This is a victory that resulted from the decisions of a board that included an SEIU secretary-treasurer.”

    Rosenfeld says this model of unions fighting for broad-based gains that reach well beyond their membership continues despite organized labor’s base declining precipitously over the last three-and-a-half decades: 

    [Jake Rosenfeld]: “Over the past couple of years we’ve seen improvements in wages and working conditions in the retail industry and fast food and in other sectors, and I think they serve as evidence that a membership base a fraction of what it once was…that’s really hemorrhaged members over time, they still can achieves some pretty enormous victories, because these are, to a large degree, union-won gains.  So that’s what unions are doing now.  You can imagine their impact was even larger when organized labor was much stronger.  That’s certainly what we establish in this report.” 

    Unions are often on the front lines fighting for minimum wage increases, despite the fact that few union workers would benefit directly from a raise in the minimum-wage:

    [Jake Rosenfeld]: “You take the Fight for Fifteen, or Fight for Fifteen and a Union, although the latter half of the slogan tends to get lost.  There is no fight for fifteen without the expertise and resources of organized labor, despite the fact that this nationwide effort hasn’t resulted in any more union members.”

    EPI hopes the report will push back against a fairly common misconception of unions by the American public:

    [Jake Rosenfeld]: “Many Americans conceive of unions as good for union members, and perhaps to the detriment of workers not lucky enough to be a union member.  This is certainly an argument that’s pushed by opponents of organized labor for some time, and this is a study that suggests that’s a narrative that’s quite wrong.”


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