Sunday, February 17, 2008

Organized Labor Still an Important Political Player

For the first time in a generation, American labor unions increased their share of membership among workers. Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 311,000 more union members in 2007, the largest increase since 1983. This reversal is a critical development since a strong labor movement is essential for making a more just society and an important component of a winning progressive coalition. By offering workers a voice inside and outside of the workplace, labor unions benefits members and non-members alike.

Despite American labor’s long post-World War II decline, the direct economic benefits of unionization are still considerable. According to the Economic Policy Institute unionized workers are paid 20 percent more than non-union workers. When non-cash benefits like health insurance are included union workers enjoy a 28 percent advantage in total compensation over their non-union members. Union workers are more likely than employees who are not in unions to have paid leave and pension plans. Labor unions also raise standards across the board: The average non-union worker in an industry with 25 percent union density was paid 7.5 percent more because of a strong union presence. At a time when corporate profits are reaching record highs while the share of the national income going to wages and salaries has reached record lows, labor unions are an essential corrective to an increasingly unequal economy.

In addition to the job unions do in the workplace, organized labor has been a major advocate of progressive change in the political arena. Unions have been behind important legislative and regulatory reforms from the minimum wage to the Family and Medical Leave Act which guarantees workers job-protected unpaid leave to care for a new child, a sick family member or their own illness.

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