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In Brief: Unions, Democracy, and More

Jan 31, 2022

Unions Are Not Only Good for Workers; They’re Good for Communities and for Democracy

High unionization levels are associated with positive outcomes across multiple indicators of economic, personal, and democratic well-being.

We know that unions promote economic equality and build worker power, helping workers to win increases in pay, better benefits, and safer working conditions.

But that’s not all unions do. Unions also have powerful effects on workers’ lives outside of work.

[There is a clear] correlation between higher levels of unionization in states and a range of economic, personal, and democratic well-being measures. In the same way unions give workers a voice at work, with a direct impact on wages and working conditions, the data suggest that unions also give workers a voice in shaping their communities. Where workers have this power, states have more equitable economic structures, social structures, and democracies.

Significantly fewer restrictive voting laws have been passed in the 17 highest-union-density states than in the middle 17 states (including D.C.) and the 17 lowest-union-density states.  Over 70% of low-union-density states passed at least one voter suppression law between 2011 and 2019.

Economic Policy Institute, 12/15/21

Will the Starbucks Union Victories Ignite Organizing across the Country?

Last Monday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced that Workers United (an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union) had won a second union election at a Buffalo-area Starbucks store — after a historic victory last month — meaning the union was victorious in two out of three elections, thereby creating the only unionized Starbucks stores in the United States. Starbucks workers are now organizing in Boston, Chicago, Seattle and also at stores in several states which have historically had weak union movements, including Arizona, Colorado, Tennessee, and elsewhere, thus raising the question of whether this represents a pivotal moment in the history of American unions.

Starbucks — A 21st Century Flint Sit-Down Strike?

The Starbucks union campaign could “light a fuse” among non-union workers and take off nationally like the General Motors (GM) Flint sit-down strike did in 1936-37 — which played a significant role in inspiring industrial militancy during the New Deal — thus signaling an organizing wave across the low-wage service sector. And if this were to happen, it would turn on its head long-held traditional logic about how structural changes in the economy — the movement away from larger industrial workplaces to much smaller service sector workplaces — has disadvantaged unions and benefited large corporations.

The Hill, 1/17/22

Chicago Teachers Narrowly Vote to End Walkout Over COVID-19 Safety Concerns During Omicron Wave

Chicago Teachers Union members have narrowly accepted a safety agreement with Chicago Public Schools, ending a bitter dispute with Mayor Lori Lightfoot over COVID-19 safety protocols amid the city’s Omicron surge and keeping students in classes for the foreseeable future.

The vote, which passed with 55.5% approval, an unusually close margin for the CTU, came as students returned Wednesday, in some cases to schools where dozens of teachers were out, leaving kids to report to auditoriums and sometimes taking classes online with their teachers working remotely. In all, just below 70% of union members voted, with 10,342 voting to accept the deal and 8,278 rejecting it.

At a House of Delegates meeting Wednesday evening, CTU leaders presented the deal to its 600 school representatives as “more than nothing, but less than what we wanted.” The virtual call featured teachers upset with union officials, at times yelling at them, for reaching an agreement — and selling it to their members — that they felt was insufficient to their safety demands. CTU President Jesse Sharkey redirected the blame at Lightfoot, who refused to budge on some of the union’s key requests, such as testing and mechanisms to pause in-person school during a surge.

“This vote is a clear show of dissatisfaction with the boss,” Sharkey said in a statement. “It’s outrageous that teachers, school nurses, counselors and more had to endure a week of being locked out by the mayor just to get a commitment from her bargaining team to provide every student with an N95 mask in a pandemic.

“Put bluntly, we have a boss who does not know how to negotiate, does not know how to hear real concerns and is not willing to respect our rank and file enough to listen to us when we tell her we need more protection.”

Chicago Sun-Times, 1/12/22

Support for Unions and Labor Activism Grows, But Union Membership Declines

Just about 1 in 10 American workers belonged to a labor union last year as the long-term decline in union membership continued even through a pandemic that saw record worker actions and organizing drives.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said Thursday that 14 million workers were members of unions, down almost a quarter of a million from the year before . . .

Public sector workers are more than five times as likely to be members of a union than private sector employees, the Bureau found. Just 6 percent of private sector workers are members of a union, compared with one-third of government workers. Teachers and law enforcement or protective employees were the most likely to be union members.

Union members still earn higher wages than their non-union counterparts, the BLS data show. The typical union worker earns $1,169 a week, while the median non-union worker earns 83 percent of that figure, $975 a week.

Blue states are still most likely to have the highest share of union members, after decades in which Republican legislators and governors have advanced right-to-work legislation and other measures aimed at dampening the political power of organized labor.

More than 1 in 5 workers in Hawaii and New York are members of labor unions, and more than 17 percent of workers in Alaska, Rhode Island and Washington state have their union cards. Alaska, a state controlled by Republicans, has an economy dominated by an oil and gas sector in which union membership is disproportionately high.

Among the states with the lowest unionization rates are Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia, where fewer than 1 in 20 workers are members of unions. Those states all have more union members than South Carolina, where only 2.9 percent of workers are in a union.

The Hill, 1/20/22


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