At a time when income inequality is skyrocketing across the world, and working class wages are stuck at a standstill, it’s easy to wonder how working people can get ahead. A new three-parts series from the UC Berkeley Labor Center, “The Union Effect in California,” offers evidence for a simple answer: more union jobs.
The report reveals that union contract help working people get more—from better wages, to better medical coverage, to essential retirement plans. Just as importantly, unions lead the march for greater rights for all working people, regardless of whether they belong to a union. Workplace protections, stronger wage theft laws, immigration rights, and criminal justice reform—the list of causes that unions champion on behalf of working people goes on and on.
It’s an eye-opening report for anyone who doubts the impact of unions on the lives of working families. Here are just a few of the lessons learned:
Lesson #1: With union jobs, women and workers of color change the game
For generations, women and workers of color have been shut out of well-paying jobs across the American job market. UC Berkeley found that union contracts help change the game, creating a rising tide that lifts wages for all–especially women and people of color. Union contracts increased wages by 26 percent for women (compared to 15 percent for men) and an incredible 40 percent for Latinos. Overall, union contracts poured an extra $18.5 billion into the pockets of workers and their families.
Lesson #2: Union jobs help working families stand on their own two feet
Hardworking Californians who pour their blood and sweat into 40+ hour work weeks should never have to rely on government assistance. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that minimum wage jobs simply can’t cut it, and many workers turn to government programs for a helping hand. With union contracts, though, union workers and their families stand on their own two feet. Union workers are 30 percent less likely to rely on social safety net programs like SNAP benefits (food stamps) and the Earned Income Tax Credit than their peers at non-union jobs.
Lesson #3: Union jobs fight for your rights on—and off—the job.
Beyond raising wages, unions are crucial to nurturing a freer, more equitable society for all — whether you’re a member or not. UC Berkeley discovered that unions are key in the fight for greater rights for working Californians. For example, starting in the 1970s and up until 2014, California’s prison population increased five-fold. Backed by unions, Prop 47 reclassified non-serious, non-violent from felonies to misdemeanors. As a result, racial disparities in sentence lengths plummeted—falling by 50% in San Francisco alone.
The message is clear: If we want to get ahead, we need to get organized. Learn how you can take action today. Let’s get to work.