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To promote prosperity and higher wages, expand collective bargaining, report suggests

To promote prosperity and higher wages, expand collective bargaining, report suggests
Source: Economic Policy Institute

There’s a reason why a growing number of Americans, nearly two out of three by last count, approve of unions,  and why nearly half of nonunionized workers would join a union if given the chance to.

Like Amazon workers voting for a voice on the job, many are waking up to what AFSCME calls the union difference.

Being in a union means negotiating together for the wages and benefits we have earned. It means having more reliable health care coverage and retiring with financial security. And it’s also about having the resources and training to do our jobs well.

Now a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) makes this ever clearer. It lays out the numbers to make the case that a loss of collective bargaining rights among workers in America has been a major factor in depressing wage growth over the last four decades.

Specifically, the report finds that between 1979 and 2017, the median hourly wage fell by nearly 8% as a result of the erosion of collective bargaining, which amounts to a loss of $3,250 annually for a full-time, full-year worker. It also shows that a third of the growth of the wage gap that occurred in those years between high- and middle-wage earners can be explained by declining unionization.

“For decades, the erosion of collective bargaining was a major factor depressing wage growth for the typical worker and driving the growth of wage inequality,” said Lawrence Mishel, the report’s author. “But this decline of unions wasn’t inevitable – it was a deliberate policy choice made on behalf of wealthy interests and corporations, and it can be reversed.”

AFSCME is leading the fight to reverse this trend. AFSCME members in Nevada won collective bargaining rights in 2019 and recently announced that they’ve reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement with the state.

Meanwhile, thanks in part to Virginia Delegate Elizabeth Guzman, one of AFSCME’s own, tens of thousands of public service workers in the commonwealth won collective bargaining rights in 2020.

The way to promote wage growth is through big policy changes, the EPI report makes clear, such as laws that expand collective bargaining rights and make it easier for workers to unionize.

“Whether workers obtain a fair share of the economy’s gains in the future will depend not so much on abstract forces beyond their control but on demanding that their political representatives restore bargaining power to workers, individually and collectively,” the report says. “Legislation that expands collective bargaining by enabling workers to choose union representation and strengthens union rights is critically important to the enterprise of restoring robust wage growth.”

AFSCME is leading the fight to restore collective bargaining rights to all workers. We strongly support the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would set a minimum nationwide standard of collective bargaining rights that all states must provide to state and local workers.

We also support the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), recently passed by the House of Representatives. The bill seeks to make it easier for workers to form strong unions by helping to unrig the system and punish employers who coerce and intimidate workers to prevent them from organizing.

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