Labor Day is more than a day off for barbecues and beaches. It’s a time to honor all the women and men whose work makes our country run. It’s also a time to be thankful for what the labor movement has done to help all working people. Thanks to unions we have overtime protections, stronger workplace safety regulations, and programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Unions are essential to economic justice. Union workers earn 30% more on average than non-union workers, and the union advantage is even greater for women and people of color. Unions help not just their members—they raise wages and standards for all working people, and now in this era of fewer unions, we all suffer.
Two studies released this week outline how declining union membership has lowered wages for everyone, even non-union workers. Diminishing negotiating power has led to increasing income inequality, and in this low wage economy, women are suffering the most. We are disproportionately in service and retail jobs with low pay and no benefits. Women make up nearly two-thirds of all minimum wage workers. We still earn only 79% on average what men do, and not surprisingly, women are more likely to live in poverty than men.
If we want to lift women out of poverty, let them organize and collectively negotiate for a living wage. If we want to help students succeed in school, give their mom a union card so she can work one job, support her family, and have time off to help her kids with homework. If we want economic fairness for women, we have to stop treating “union” as a 4-letter word. Joining together in union is seen as positive when we refer to marriage or the unity of our states. When businesses unify as the Chamber of Commerce, that’s seen as positive, too. But when working people come together in unions, somehow that gets framed as scary and negative.
That double standard has to change, and so on this Labor Day, I’m asking Women AdvaNCe readers to stand up for our right to organize in the workplace. Get involved locally in union campaigns:
- Support fast food workers and home health aides in their fight for $15 an hour and a union [Link to: http://fightfor15.org/]
- Show solidarity with the graduate student workers at Duke University [Link to: https://www.facebook.com/dukegraduatestudentsunion/]
- Join the effort to win justice for farmworkers who are part of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. [Link to: http://www.floc.com/]
Spread the word: there is power in a union. We really are stronger together. By organizing at the workplace (and at the ballot box this fall), we can improve the lives of all working people.
Check out this Video for more information.