Fair Pay: What a Difference a Union Makes

by | Sep 2, 2011 | Fair Pay

On Monday, the country will celebrate Labor Day – a national holiday established to honor the strength of America’s workers and its unions. All workers who are in unions benefit from higher wages, better benefits, retirement security and more – but the union difference for today’s women is especially striking, particularly when it comes to fair pay.

Women now make up half of America’s workforce, and we’re the primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of families. When women are paid unfairly, entire families and the national economy suffer. Yet today, women in this country are still paid, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. For African American and Latina women, the gap is even worse.

But women in unions experience a much smaller gap. In fact, collective bargaining rights have helped union women to earn almost 34 percent more than nonunion women. That’s a union difference of $217 per week – or more than $11,000 a year! And the difference is greatest for women and people of color. Overall, African American and Latino union workers are paid 31 percent and almost 51 percent more, respectively, than their nonunion counterparts.

Unfortunately, just 11 percent of working women are in unions. And unions nationwide are struggling mightily in the face of shifting industries, a changing economy and unprecedented political attacks. As we all saw in Wisconsin – a state with a long history of advancing rights for workers and women – the governor eliminated collective bargaining rights for a majority of the state’s public employees. The positions most affected were dominated by women and included teachers, nurses and child care providers. Sadly, hostile lawmakers have launched similar attacks on workers and the unions they count on around the nation.

The attempts to weaken unions in this country are attacks on all working people. These attacks cause grave harm to women and families by making it harder for us to win fair wages and the level playing field that we need in the workplace.

As advocates for women continue to push for federal legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act, we will not forget about the union difference and the role that unions play in establishing standards and protections for America’s workers.

This Labor Day, I hope all women will join me in showing support and solidarity for America’s workers and its unions. A vibrant labor movement in this country helps to promote the fair pay and economic security that America’s working women and our families need and deserve.