Labor Voices: Americans recognize union value
Most workers this week received an extra day off for Labor Day, which honors hardworking Americans who for generations have fought for higher pay, better benefits and improved safety on the job.
But Labor Day isn’t just about the past; it is still very much about the present. In 2018 alone, thousands of Teamsters gathered in Detroit and Columbus, Ohio demanding that their earned pensions be protected. Teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and elsewhere walked out of their classrooms because of low pay and lack of respect on the job. And just last month, more than two-thirds of voters in Missouri overturned so-called Right-to-Work legislation that curbs the ability of workers to come together and negotiate for fair compensation and workplace conditions.
Why is this happening? Because despite a low unemployment rate, almost four in 10 Americans are still struggling to cover their basic needs. A new report by the Urban Institute additionally found that a third of families with a working adult in the household are having trouble covering at least one of their basic needs, such as paying for food or utilities.
This is not what should be happening in the wealthiest nation on the planet. But unfortunately, the economic gains that are being realized are lining the pockets of corporate bosses and wealthy investors instead of flowing to the workers who help build those companies and make them successful.
Corporate earnings rose by 7.7 percent during the second quarter of 2018, but that hasn’t resulted in higher pay for rank-and-file workers. For more than four decades, wages have remained essentially flat. That doesn’t cut it. Working Americans deserve a living wage.
Increasingly, workers understand the value of the labor movement. A June survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that the public supports unions and understands their importance in the economy. The poll found that 55 percent of Americans have a positive impression of unions with 33 percent opposing unions. Additionally, they understand that reduced union size and power is bad for workers. Despite the best efforts of anti-union politicians and billionaire bosses, working people understand that unions are the last line of defense when it comes to wages, benefits and job protections.
And don’t kid yourself – Americans support unions because union workers earn more money and better health and retirement benefits than non-union workers. In fact, the median union worker makes $11,000 more a year than the median non-union worker. Need proof? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics last year unveiled numbers showing that 94 percent of private sector union workers have access of employer-provided health care benefits, compared to only 67 percent of non-union workers.
And unlike the non-union world, union jobs are the only place in America where you earn equal pay on the job – no matter your gender, race, religion or ethnicity.
The labor movement fights for increased wages, raising the standard of living for all hardworking Americans, ensuring quality working conditions and better benefits for workers and their families. While the American workplace is changing and new industries are increasingly becoming more prominent, unions are more important than ever.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.