In a comprehensive new report, How Today’s Unions Help Working People, the Economic Policy Institute details how collective bargaining plays an essential role in today's labor market by raising working people's wages and strengthening their rights at work, as well as giving working people a voice in our democracy.
The report provides updated statistics on who today’s unions represent and where they are strongest. The authors point out that labor unions are more diverse than ever before: Union members include dental hygienists, graduate students, and digital journalists, as well as manufacturing workers and public-sector employees. About two-thirds of union workers age 18 to 64 are women or people of color. 14.5 percent of black workers age 18 to 64 are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, compared with 12.5 percent of white workers and 10.1 percent of Hispanic workers.
Collective bargaining is an important force in reducing inequality and ensuring that low- and middle-wage workers are given a fair return on their work. As productivity has risen over the last several decades, wages have remained flat for the majority of working people, while skyrocketing for those at the top. Union decline can explain one-third of the rise in wage inequality among men and one-fifth of the rise in wage inequality among women from 1973 to 2007. Among men, the erosion of collective bargaining has been the largest single factor driving a wedge between the middle class and the top 1 percent.