Before I start my blog about the value of union membership, I have some rather sad news. AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka, passed away on August 5, 2021. Rich was one of those guests I had on my wish list since I started my podcast, but sadly that will never happen. Even sadder, the world lost a great labor ally and advocate for working people.
Before his passing, I had the fortunate pleasure of taping two episodes with Elizabeth Shuler, the AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer. Our first episode, Meet the AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer, Liz Shuler, premiered on July 29, so it seemed fitting for me to dedicate our second episode, The Value of Union Membership, to Trumka, his legacy, Liz, and the entire AFL-CIO family.
I’d also like to dedicate this blog to Rich Trumka and his legacy. Since he devoted his entire life to the value of union membership and advocating for workers’ rights, I figured that he would approve of this blog and its subject matter.
Now onto the topic at hand… I created my podcast to dispel myths about unions, to tell those positive stories about the labor movement, and proclaim the value of union membership. Oftentimes, negative stereotypes about labor unions pervade the media. Try finding one positive news story about labor unions on CNN or FOX News; it’s like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. I mean, do any of you remember seeing that news story about the Teamsters or the National Union Healthcare Workers coming to the aid of California wildfire victims?
When Liz guested on the podcast, we talked about the value of union membership and she shared some of her favorite myths about the labor movement that she enjoys busting:
How Unions Help All Workers
A 2003 paper from the Economic Policy Institute reported that labor unions not only help their own members but they help all workers – union and non-union alike. The higher the union density the better the industry pay standards are for nonunion workers. For instance, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25% unionized could see a 5% increase in pay over similar workers in less unionized industries.
If union membership kept pace at the same level from 1979, then nonunion working men would have earned an additional $109 billion per year. Unions have also spent millions of dollars in the fight for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour which benefits all workers.
Labor unions don’t just help workers; they also improve communities through collective bargaining. For example, the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in part for more libraries. The president of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers called on big banks doing business with St Paul public schools to limit foreclosures for households with school-age children during the school year.
This idea that labor unions are outdated or “old-fashioned” is more than just a myth; it’s laughable. As if caring about one’s wages, one’s retirement security, and one’s community can ever be “outdated” or simply fall out of fashion. I’ve got news for you – as long as there are workers, the labor movement is here to stay.
Economic Policy Institute: Briefing Paper: How Unions Help All Workers; Lawrence Mishel with Matthew Walters, August 2003.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics, News Release; US Department of Labor, January 22, 2021.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics, News Release; US Department of Labor, October 25, 2019.
The Washington Post, 5 Myths About Unions; Moshe Marvit, September 2, 2016.
Enjoy full podcast episodes of The World of Multiemployer Benefit Funds with union and client advocate, Traci Dority-Shanklin. Available on Apple, Spotify, Google, Amazon, Pandora, or check out our full library HERE on our website.
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