U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez made a strong case for the value of labor unions following the release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2014 Union Membership Report.
“Today’s report confirms what we’ve always known: that belonging to a union makes a powerful difference in people’s lives, providing greater economic security and helping them punch their ticket to the middle class,” Perez said Friday.
The report highlights that the median weekly earnings of nonunion workers ($763) were only 79 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($970). As Perez points out, that’s no small difference. If you do the math, it amounts to $10,000 more a year for union members.
In addition, women who are union members earn salaries that are closer to parity with their male counterparts than those of nonunion women.
Perez noted, as President Obama did in his State of the Union address, that the American economy has bounced back from the brink. Nevertheless, he said, labor unions are more important now than ever.
“The economy is resurgent, with an unemployment rate well below 6 percent and job growth we haven’t experienced since the late 1990s,” Perez said. “The challenge we face now is creating shared prosperity, ensuring that our growing economy works for everyone. To do that, we need to turn up the volume on worker voice.”
Labor unions will help strengthen America’s middle class at a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet while saving for their children’s education and planning for retirement.
“There is a direct link throughout American history between the strength of the middle class and the vitality of the labor movement,” Perez recalled. “It’s not a coincidence. When unions are strong, working families thrive, with wages and productivity rising in tandem. But when the percentage of people represented by unions is low, there is downward pressure on wages and the middle class takes it on the chin.”
At a time when many elected state officials across the nation – including newly elected or reelected governors in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and Ohio – have vowed to take on labor unions and silence the voices of working families, Perez echoed President Obama’s call to strengthen, not weaken, laws that give workers a voice.
“That means protecting and strengthening collective bargaining rights, and it also means exploring new organizing strategies and other innovative approaches to empowering workers in a modern economy,” he said.
Although the 2014 Union Membership Report registered a small (0.2 percent) drop in union membership from 2013, AFSCME defied the odds, organizing 132,000 new members across the nation last year.