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News from EPI New fact sheet shows that unions support a more equitable economy

Unions help to significantly reduce racial economic disparities and provide a significant boost to women’s pay, according to a new Economic Policy Institute fact sheet. This is largely the result of the union pay premium and the enhanced job protections enjoyed by workers covered by a union contract.

Key findings include:

  • Workers in unions have higher wages. Unionized workers earn on average 13.5% more in wages than nonunionized peers.
  • Unions reduce racial and ethnic pay gaps. Black workers are more likely than white workers to be union members, and they earn on average 14.6% more in wages than nonunionized peers. Hispanic workers have slightly lower union coverage than white workers but have a much higher union wage advantage (a 17.6% boost in pay).
  • Racial wealth gaps are much smaller for union members. Among nonunion families, the median white family has more than $7 in wealth for every $1 held by the median Black family. Among union families, this ratio is roughly half as large, with the median white family holding $3.70 in wealth for every $1 held by the median Black family.
  • Unions boost women’s pay. Hourly wages for women represented by unions are 9.5% higher on average than for nonunionized women with comparable characteristics. Union-represented workers in service occupations (which include food service and janitorial services) are paid 47.7% more in wages than their nonunion counterparts. These occupations are disproportionately held by women.

Unions also provide workers with additional job protections, including due process protections which guard against arbitrary dismissals based on race and gender discrimination. Further, unions play a role in strengthening our democracy—previous EPI research shows that voter turnout is higher in states with greater levels of unionization.

However, the right to a union and collective bargaining has been eroded for decades as employers exploit weaknesses in current labor law. The authors of the fact sheet call on Congress to restore workers’ fundamental rights, including by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.

Unions are essential to an equitable economy. Through collective bargaining, marginalized workers can build enough power to improve their living and working conditions, and as a result the health and lives of their families and communities,” said Kyle K. Moore, an economist with EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy. “It’s long past time Congress acts to strengthen workers’ right to join unions and bargaining collectively.”