There's good news for unions attempting to attract the
young members that they must attract if they are to grow. It comes in recent
studies showing clearly that younger workers do better as union members and
that increasing numbers of the workers agree.
The basic figures, compiled by the Center for Economic
and Policy Research, certainly are convincing. Unionized workers aged 18 to 29
averaged about $15 an hour -- more than 12 percent or about $1.75 an hour more
than non-union workers of the same age.
What's more, 40 percent of the unionized workers had
employer-financed health care, while only 20 percent of those outside unions
had such benefits. Almost 30
percent of those in unions had pension plans, only 11 percent of those outside.
Most of the unionized workers also had such other benefits as paid holidays and
The contrast was even greater for workers in the 15
lowest paid jobs, including kitchen helpers, housekeepers, laborers, security
guards, stock clerks, teachers' aides, child- care providers and others. The median pay of young unionized
workers in those jobs was about $11 an hour, nearly $2 more than their
non-union counterparts. They also were much more likely to have health and
Whatever the occupation, and however they were measured,
unionized young workers did better - unionized men better than non-union men,
unionized women better than non-union women, unionized African Americans and
Latinos better than non-union workers in those categories.
Economist John Schmitt, the study's author, noted that
younger workers, who have "the weakest foothold in the labor market,"
have been the age group hit the hardest by stagnant and declining wages over
the past three decades. After adjusting for inflation, the wage of a typical
young worker has decreased by about 10 percent. Earnings have remained low even
while there's been a marked increase in the number of younger people earning
four-year college degrees and a decrease in the number leaving high school
without diplomasYet despite the obvious advantages of union membership
that has brought better pay and benefits to the younger workers who've joined,
younger workers generally have had the lowest unionization rate of any age
group. Only about 7 percent are in unions, compared with the rate of about 12
percent for workers in general.
Other recent studies indicate that the economic situation
for younger workers is worsening.
They say that young people are so heavily hit by declining incomes,
growing debt, and the high costs of home ownership and health care they could
very well be the first generation not to surpass the living standards of their
But well over half the workers say they hope to avoid
that by unionizing. Joining a union would not only help them improve their own
status and help reverse what's been a steady decline in union strength. It
would also bring new strength to union efforts in behalf of important social,
economic and political reforms backed by unions.
As the studies show, a high proportion of young workers
support much greater government spending on health care and education, for
instance - even if that requires higher taxes - and more government services
generally. Unionization should be especially attractive to the young workers
who feel that way, since union members are assured a greater voice in political
affairs and community activities, given organized labor's prominence in such
The most important thing the young workers can expect
from unions is a guarantee of dignity - the promise, as one union organizer
noted, "of being treated like a man or woman, with rights and abilities
that management must respect."
Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister