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Young Workers Are the Future of Labor – And the Future Is Now

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At AFSCME, we know that young workers are the future of our union. That’s why AFSCME’s Next Wave gives young leaders the support and resources they need to stay on the front lines of the labor movement.

This year, it’s even more clear that strong unions will rely on young workers. A new analysis by the Economic Policy Institute shows that 76 percent of the nationwide increase in union membership in 2017 was made up of workers under 35.

The fact that union membership grew last year, bucking the trend of previous years, was the first piece of good news when the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual data on union membership. That such growth was the result of younger workers joining unions is even better – as The Nation points out, “… in contrast to the myth of millennials’ being economically and politically adrift, they’re stepping in readily to fill the union ranks….”

“It’s no surprise that [working people] value unions – as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual report shows, union workers earn considerably more on average than their non-union peers,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders in reaction to the uptick in union membership last year. “Women and communities of color, for whom unions have historically been a pathway to the middle class, enjoy an even greater pay advantage when they join unions.”

If average workers benefit from joining a union, this is even more true of millennials, for whom the labor market is packed with jobs that are less stable and lower-paying. In fact, 94 percent of net job growth between 2005 and 2015 was in the “alternative work” category, meaning temporary or unsteady jobs such as those filled by independent contractors, according to economists at Harvard and Princeton.

If millennials are joining unions in higher numbers and continue to do so, it could be a reflection of their desire to have well-paying jobs, safer working conditions and a secure retirement, among other things – all of which unionized workers have at higher rates than their non-union counterparts.

As The Nation put it, “Nationwide, unionized workers are more than 50 percent more likely to have an employer-sponsored pension, and the vast majority have health insurance through their employer – a virtual financial unicorn for millennials who are often tracked into freelance and gig work with few benefits. Workers under age 25 who are unionized earn roughly a fifth more than their non-union counterparts.”

Which is why AFSCME remains committed to fighting off attacks against public service workers, and to getting young workers involved.