Now that the economy is starting to rebound from the Great Recession, the question is not simply how many jobs are we creating, but are we creating jobs that raise wages for all? To ensure a strong recovery, we need family-sustaining wages. And the answer is clear: the best solution to low, stagnant wages is to join a union.
Connecticut workers are doing just that – they are either seeking out good union jobs or taking matters into their own hands by forming unions to raise wages and ensure that new jobs are good jobs. According to last month’s release of the annual union membership numbers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership rose in our state.
And it’s clear why. In 2014, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median weekly earnings of $970, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $763. That’s a difference of nearly $11,000 every year!
In Connecticut, the labor movement had robust growth from 2013 to 2014. In 2013, Connecticut had 207,000 union members, or 13.5 percent of the workforce. In 2014, the state had 231,000 union members or 14.8 percent of the workforce. That is a net gain of 24,000 new members.
These gains are in large part because graduate student workers at the University of Connecticut, nurses and hospital workers in Danbury and New Milford, and many other workers across the state stood up for better wages and working conditions, and joined a union.
Nationally, however, there was a slight downward trend in the union membership rate – from 11.3 percent of the workforce to 11.1 percent. Relentless attacks from billionaire Koch brother-backed governors and legislatures have weakened workers’ rights across the country. Michigan, for instance, had a so-called “Right to Work” law pushed through in 2012, which was based on the false premise that the law would magically strengthen the economy and lead to greater wages. In fact, the opposite is true.
The states with the highest median household income? Fourteen out of the top 16 are non-“Right to Work” states. The states with the lowest household income? Eight out of the 11 lowest-income states have “Right to Work” laws. How about unemployment rates? Seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment are “Right to Work” states.
These anti-worker laws are simply about breaking unions and preventing workers from having a voice on the job.
It is no wonder that as union density has declined over the past several decades, wages have stagnated. There used to be a time when, as productivity increased, so did wages. No longer. With corporate profits at historic highs, workers are clearly not benefiting. Research by the Economic Policy Institute has shown that the decline in unionization can explain a third of the growth in income inequality.
We are fortunate to be in Connecticut – a state that has withstood the attacks on workers’ rights. While some governors were severely restricting workers’ right to collectively bargain, Connecticut expanded bargaining rights to more workers. Union members get better wages than their non-union counterparts, but as more workers join unions, non-union workers start to see their wages increase as well. A rising tide lifts all boats.
And thankfully, with 24,000 more union members in the state, all of our boats can begin to see a lift.
Lori J. Pelletier is the Executive Secretary Treasurer of the Connecticut AFL-CIO
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