Americans have more reason than ever to be thankful for labor unions this year. Throughout the year unions across the country have fought to keep innovation in the United States, to defend workers from unfair “temporary” and “contractor” designations, and to make sure students are safe and learning in an optimal environment.
Unions do not fight only for their own members, but for all working Americans. Here’s how:
1. They’re fighting for fair wages and benefits for us all.
When unions are strong even non-member workers enjoy higher wagers. This fact is clearly illustrated by the gap between wages in states with union-busting “right-to-work” laws and states that have stood against such laws. Wages in states with “right-to-work” laws are 3.1% lower across the board for all workers than in states that have supported strong unions. Its no surprise that the wage gap in the United States has grown as union density has fallen; unions are a vital to combating growing inequality in our nation.
2. They’re standing up for our children.
When teachers in Chicago went on strike this year they were not just fighting for fair wages and benefits. They were demanding a better learning environment for their students — including smaller class sizes — so no student is lost in the crowd and everybody gets the attention they deserve. The teachers also demanded that schools have more counselors, nurses, and physiologists to ensure that students are safe and getting the support they need to thrive.
3. They’re working to make America a leader in the clean economy.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) strike against General Motors this year was a battle for good jobs and the future of American manufacturing. In addition to winning bread and butter gains, the UAW pushed back against the practice of companies sending investments in advanced and electric vehicles to other countries instead of creating jobs here in the United States. UAW was able to gain commitments from GM — and later from Ford — to over $15 billion in domestic plant investments at dozens of plants. That includes a $3 billion investment by GM to build battery modules and an electric SUV in Michigan, and billions in investment by Ford to build electric and hybrid pickup trucks and vans, and battery and electric motors.
4. They’re protecting our environment.
Labor unions have been actively fighting to address climate change for decades, and not only through organizations like the BlueGreen Alliance. Union members want their communities to have clean water and air. Internationally, unions were vital in pushing for adoption of the Paris Agreement, and have decried the Trump administration’s decision to back out of it. Additionally, should a union member blow the whistle on a company for breaking environmental laws, they can do so confidently knowing that their union has their back.
5. They’re striving to keep all workers safe.
Unions have been fighting for as long as they have been around to protect the safety and health of workers. Unions led the drive to establish the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 50 years ago and every year unions strive to improve OSHA regulations and safety and health contract language, while training their members in how to do their jobs as safely as they can. In states, unions fight for safety policies like California’s groundbreaking Process Safety Management (PSM) regulation that requires refineries to prevent the kinds of fires, explosions, and chemical releases that continue to occur in communities across the nation, and which threaten the safety of workers and residents and pollute our air and water.