Building Worker Power: A project of the AFL-CIO and the Economic Policy Institute

Change is happening in workplaces all across America. Working people are joining together and organizing, mobilizing, and striking for fairness and justice—and they are winning.

From the Marriott workers who won raises, pensions, and protections against sexual harassment to the Google strikers who won change on forced arbitration and sexual harassment, working people are showing the power of collective action in inspiring ways. Examples can be found across the country, from the teacher who went on strike in West Virginia, Los Angeles, and places in between to the digital journalists in 30 digital newsrooms who have organized since 2015 to graduate employees organizing at Georgetown and Columbia universities and elsewhere.

And research shows that working people want a voice: 48 percent of workers without a union would vote for one in their workplace if they had the chance—a 50 percent increase since the last survey was taken 22 years ago. Young workers are the most supportive, and accounted for three-fourths of new union members in 2017.

Unionized workers earn more than their nonunion counterparts, have better benefits, and have the security of a written contract—a collective bargaining agreement—protecting their rights. And unionized workers actually raise wages for nonunion workers: A strong labor movement helps all workers and is important to enacting progressive policies like a higher minimum wage, paid family leave, and voting rights.

Federal law is supposed to encourage worker organizing and collective bargaining, but too many employers still interfere in legal and illegal ways when their workers try to form a union with their coworkers. Current law is too weak to stop employer interference. Workers in the public sector—firefighters, police officers, teachers, and other public employees—don’t have collective bargaining rights in half of U.S. states. We need to strengthen the law, penalize lawbreakers, and expand coverage to all workers. And we need to publicly call out employers when they interfere with workers who are exercising their federally protected right to form a union.

The AFL-CIO and the Economic Policy Institute created the Building Worker Power project to raise awareness about the importance of collective bargaining rights and the labor movement to working people, their communities, our economy, and our democracy.

Building Worker Power: Resources

Frequently asked questions about unions, organizing and the law

What exactly is a union? Broadly speaking, a union is a group of workers who join together to advocate for improvements at the workplace—higher pay, better benefits, training and promotional opportunities, and protections against sexual harassment—and around other issues that concern them. Read more

Who are today’s union workers?

Unionized workers are very diverse, and they work in most industries across America. More than 16 million working women and men in the United States, or one in nine workers, are represented by a union. This makes organized labor one of the largest and most representative institutions in America. Read more

Workers, communities and our democracy need unions

Unions improve wages and benefits for all workers, not just union members. They help reduce income inequality by making sure all Americans, and not just the wealthy elite, share in the benefits of workers’ labor. Unions help win progressive policies at the federal, state, and local levels that benefit all workers and communities. Read more

Working people want a voice at work

There is a huge gap between the share of workers with union representation (11.9 percent) and the share of workers who would like to have a union and a voice on the job. Almost half of nonunion workers polled (48 percent) said they’d vote to create a union in their workplace tomorrow if they got the chance. Read more

The NLRB election process—or, how not to facilitate a timely, fair vote

As of 2017, some 48 percent of workers without a union would vote to have one at their workplace—a 50 percent increase since this question was asked in a study conducted more than two decades ago. Read more

Stories of success and perseverance by workers exercising their union rights

Case studies come from published sources, including news articles and the Economic Policy Institute’s 2017 report, How Today’s Unions Help Working People, and unpublished sources, including the unions that are working with the campaigns listed in this document. Read more

Map: States with comprehensive collective bargaining laws

Map: Status of K-12 public school teacher bargaining

Additional resources