That’s the amount in annual wages that non-union workers lose due to the decline in unions. You can find it in a new report by the Economic Policy Institute empirically demonstrating that the attack on union rights is the biggest reason why wages are stuck and inequality is growing.
The study, “Union Decline Lowers Wages of Nonunion Workers,” bears witness to our belief in the labor movement that an injury to one is truly an injury to all.
According to EPI, those particularly hard hit by the drop in labor union density are non-union men with a high school diploma or less. Their weekly wages would be an estimated 9 percent ($61) higher if union density remained at its 1979 levels, according to EPI. For a year-round worker, this translates to an annual wage loss of about $3,172. That’s real money — enough to pay more than three month’s average rent.
Women workers, too, have suffered, according to EPI. Their wages would be 2 to 3 percent higher if unions had stayed at their 1979 levels.
The perils of stagnating wages and economic inequality in our own backyard were brought to light last week when Connecticut Voices released their “State of Working Connecticut 2016” report. According to co-authors Ray Noonan and Derek Thomas, Connecticut’s economy is trending in a risky fashion that echoed the alarms sounded in the EPI study. Among the trends:
• Unemployment in Connecticut has recovered for whites and college-educated workers, but not for workers of color and those without a college education.
• Since 2001, the share of private-sector jobs in low-wage industries has increased by 20 percent, while the share of private-sector jobs in high-wage industries has decreased by 13 percent.
• The median and bottom 10 percent of Connecticut wage-earners have seen their wages decline by more than 2 percent since 2002, while the top 10 percent have experienced growth of more than 11 percent.
If we want a truly moral economy, then we’ve got to reverse these trend lines. There are many solutions, from raising the minimum wage and restoring the earned income tax credit to encouraging economic development policies that reward companies committed to treating their workers fairly while cracking down on exploitation and wage theft.
The surest path to reinvigorating wage growth for low- and middle-wage workers is to rebuild collective bargaining. Union jobs provide other benefits that allow working families to reach the middle class — retirement plans, paid family and sick leave, and high-quality health insurance. Unions also close the inequality gap and increase the middle-class share of the nation’s total income.
A union revival is no easy task at a time when corporations have been deemed people when it comes to political giving and the laws are seemingly stacked against workers seeking to lift themselves up by forming a union.
Yet, I’ve seen signs of hope in recent weeks: Nearly 900 employees at the Western Connecticut Hospital Network overcame years of intimidation and harassment to form a union; the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that graduate teaching or research assistants at private universities are employees and have the right to unionize; and nearly 400 assistant attorneys general and public defenders in Connecticut are seeking the right to union representation before the State Board of Labor Relations.
Are we on the brink of a return to a bygone era when more than one in four American workers belonged to a union? Not yet, but the sooner we acknowledge that opposition to unions is a major reason for income inequality, the better able we are to restore the power of collective bargaining as a tool for economic mobility and a growing middle class in Connecticut and the world.
Otherwise stated, I can think of a 133 billion good reasons we need more and stronger unions.
Sal Luciano is Executive Director of Council 4, a union representing 32,000 workers. Council 4 can be reached on Facebook and through its Campaign4MiddleClass on Twitter @C4MC. Sign up for email updates from Council 4 here.
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