USW, UAW, Teamsters, AFSCME. Those may just sound like odd names to many, but to me and many American workers, they are the myriad labor unions that have been integral to our country and its' blue-collar population. They have helped in many ways to defend workers, give them good benefits plans, and to protect their salary and ability to work from corporations.
Now? They have been in decline for decades, and sit at just 10.7% of all workers according to U.S. government estimates. This is a remarkably low number for the United States' workforce and is also another sad part of the economic stagnation of the U.S. since union membership began to collapse.
It might seem a bit odd to believe that unions and income inequality would be linked: you would expect that, maybe as a gesture of goodwill, corporation executives might offer better benefits to retain talent.
This could not be further from the truth. Studies have indicated that unions have a positive effect from members to nonmembers.
In a study conducted measuring average household income from 1973-2015, researchers found that there was a robust correlation between income inequality and union decline. In fact, the study found that the wages of nonunion workers would have been 3-7% higher if union membership rates were noticeably higher.
This dramatic increase in income inequality can be attributed to multiple factors: increasing automation, workers being reduced to performing increasingly less-intricate tasks, outsourcing, college-degree preference and so on. However, as time has gone on and research has been conducted, unions have been shown to benefit society and counter income inequality via actions such as fighting for broader access to healthcare, which has been a key facet of income inequality.
Though unions are far weaker now than they have been historically, we have still seen their power: In Los Angeles, unions were able to help negotiate better pay and funding for school teachers. In West Virginia, unions were center-stage as the many teachers who wanted more money were granted by the governor.
As one can see, unions still have a part to play in our country and its' economy.
Unions remain integral to how we function. Without unions, many of the benefits, payment plans, and healthcare options would not exist. And that is why I am partial to unions: unions allowed for socioeconomic ascendancy, a better life for families, and a chance to live a good life despite not having the luxury of a college degree.
In a time where the world is saturated with degrees and not enough trade school workers, unions might just become essential yet again. I, for one, would welcome that. As a kid from Ohio, union workers are prevalent, and protecting them now and later is integral.
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