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What the doctor ordered: For pandemic relief, one dose of collective bargaining for every worker

Previous Saunders links labor rights, civil rights at Commitment March
By AFSCME Staff ·

Union members in America were better prepared for the coronavirus pandemic and have fared better than their nonunionized peers. Among other things, unionized workers have been able to “secure enhanced safety measures, additional premium pay, paid sick time, and a say in the terms of furloughs or work-share arrangements to save jobs.”

Those are among the findings of a new report by the Economic Policy Institute. EPI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that conducts economic research and analysis to highlight the needs of low- and middle-income workers in public policy discussions.

The report provides the latest data on how unions benefit workers, which show:

“Now, more than ever, we need strong labor laws to protect working people from the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Lynn Rhinehart, EPI senior fellow and one of the report’s authors. “We need policymakers to use their power to halt and reverse the four-decades-old trend of rising inequality, while also creating meaningful reforms that help workers organize unions.”

The report comes as the pandemic shows few signs of abating, with more than 36,000 new cases reported daily, and as calls for racial justice continue and are increasingly met with violence. It shows that current labor law fails to protect American workers, and that lack of access to collective bargaining rights has contributed both to suffering during the pandemic and to the economic inequality exacerbated by it.

“The right to a union is a racial justice issue, as well as an economic justice issue,” said Celine McNicholas, EPI’s director of government affairs and one of the report’s authors. “Unions help shrink the Black-white wage gap, due to the dual facts that Black workers are more likely than white workers to be represented by a union, and Black workers who are in unions get a larger boost to wages from being in a union than white workers do. Unions also provide a crucial voice to workers in which they can address issues of discrimination and inequities at their workplace.”

The authors recommend several policy reforms at the state and federal levels, including passage of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which AFSCME supports. The bill, which passed the House of Representatives but is stalled in the Senate, would help ensure that public service workers all across the country have collective bargaining rights and a strong voice on the job.

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