Next week is the 9-year anniversary of Michigan’s right-to-work law. The law, adopted by former governor Rick Snyder, took effect on March 28, 2013. The law allows workers who fill positions represented by a union to opt out of union membership. Those who opt out still enjoy the benefits of any contracts the union negotiates for the position. While the impacts of right-to-work are wide-ranging, it’s clear that unions have a positive impact on wages for women and minorities.
According to data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who occupy union positions made nearly 20% more in weekly wages than non-union workers performing the same work. Men represented by unions made nearly 15% more than their non-union counterparts, and women made nearly 25% more than women performing the same work but not in a union. The annual average salary for a woman who occupies a union position was about $57,400 in 2021. Her non-union counterpart’s annual average wage was about $46,000.
The wage benefit of union membership also extended to minority workers. Black men represented by a union earned nearly 29% more than non-union Black men performing the same work. Black women in a union earned 31.3% more than their non-union female counterparts. Hispanic workers fared the best when working as part of a union. Both Hispanic men and women earned about 36% more as union members than Hispanic non-union workers did.
The data strongly show the protective effect of union membership on wages. The only demographic group that did not show increased earnings related to union membership was Asian men. Asian women who worked as part of a union earned about 10% more than non-union workers.
Union membership will not protect union jobs at WCC
Based on the statistics, union membership delivers an enormous economic benefit to nearly all workers. But we also have to look at the corollary. In the absence of unions, the stark reality is that women and minorities earn less. And the difference is not minor.
We know this because we currently operate parallel employment systems where some workers are and others are not unionized. People who belong to unions make more money and enjoy a higher standard of living than workers who perform the same work without union representation. A salary difference of 10%-36% more means owning a home, living above the poverty line, and having health insurance. It means having short-term and long-term disability insurance, retirement benefits and protection against gender, age, and racial discrimination in employment. It means predictable wage increases and education benefits.
Michigan’s right-to-work laws have enabled employers to target unions and hire non-union workers. The end goal is to eliminate unions along with the economic benefits they bring to their membership.
The only unions WCC wants on campus are involved in summer training programs. Union-busting is real, and WCC’s bargained-for employees will soon confront this issue head-on. It will bring inequality to wages and benefits and change everything from who sweeps the floors to the student-teacher ratio.
I hope WCC’s bargaining units are ready for this.
Photo Credit: Joe Brusky , via Flickr