AFSCME president: Union membership report ‘proves the union difference’ in pay

By AFSCME Staff ·

In an era of fast-paced change, it’s nice to be reminded that some things never change. One of them is the fact that union members earn higher wages than their nonunion counterparts, as the latest report on U.S. union membership shows.

“Today’s BLS report proves the union difference and shows why workers across the nation are standing up to major corporations like Amazon and Starbucks, and even to cultural institutions, to form a union,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a press statement Thursday, referring to the report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2021, union members in the United States who were full-time wage and salary workers had median usual weekly earnings of $1,169 compared to their nonunion counterparts, who earned $975, according to the report. That’s a difference of $194 per week, or 20%.

To learn how unionized workers of color earn more than their nonunionized counterparts, watch this video.

The union difference goes beyond higher wages, however. Union members also have more reliable health care coverage and retire with financial security. Because we have a seat at the negotiating table, we are safer and more protected on the job, and we are more likely to have the resources and training to do our jobs well.

Being part of a union is also about having someone to turn to if something’s not right.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, workers across the country have been discovering and rediscovering the union difference. From television and film production crews to John Deere factory workers to California health care workers and more, Americans fed up with being underpaid and disrespected by their employers are standing together and raising their voices.

Front-line workers have made huge sacrifices in the last two years of the pandemic, but often have felt disrespected by their employers. The BLS report shows, in strictly monetary terms, the value for such workers of being part of a union.

For example, in 2021, health care practitioners who were members of unions made median weekly earnings of $1,402, whereas their nonunion counterparts made $1,259. That’s a difference of $143 per week, or 11%.

Although, according to the BLS report, the U.S. union membership rate – at 10.3% – has remained roughly the same as in prior years, Americans of all backgrounds are waking up to the union difference. According to a Gallup poll released in September, approval of labor unions is at its highest point since 1965.

That’s why Congress must do more to make it easier for workers to form strong unions.

“Even as workers are winning these fights for better pay and benefits and union popularity has surged to its highest point in half a century, workers who want to organize confront a rigged system, particularly against deep-pocketed employers willing to lie and cheat to rob workers of their voice,” Saunders said.

Congress can start by passing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would establish a minimum set of standards of collective bargaining that all states must provide public service workers, and the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would strengthen federal law to protect workers trying to form a union from attacks by their employers.