Web 190903 union effect

Union membership in Washington is growing. The state now ranks 3rd highest in the nation in the percentage of workers in unions. And a new report released on Aug. 29 by the Washington State Labor Education and Research Center helps explain one of the reasons why that is so: union members here earn significantly higher wages and are more likely to get health care and retirement benefits than their non-union counterparts.

"The Union Effect: Raising Standards for Workers Across Washington" finds that Washington workers in unions earn, on average, 7.2 percent more than comparable non-union workers -- or an additional $3,500 per year. They also reduce race and gender gaps in compensation, especially for lower wage workers. According to the report, workers of color in Washington who are union members are 21 percent more likely to have health insurance coverage and are 45 percent more likely to have pension coverage. Immigrant workers in unions have a 43 percent greater likelihood of having health insurance and a 77 percent greater likelihood of having pension coverage.

“This report's findings are no surprise to those of us already in unions,” said Larry Brown, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “When you join together with your co-workers to negotiate from a position of strength, you get better pay and benefits. That's good for everyone -- not just union families -- because it boosts the state and local economies, and it raises standards for all workers in Washington.”

The state’s union membership rate increased to 19.8 percent of the workforce in 2018, up from 18.8 percent in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. With 65,000 more workers joining the ranks last year, there are now an estimated 649,000 union members in Washington, making it the third most unionized state in the nation. Only Hawaii and New York have higher percentages.

Meanwhile, Gallup reports that public approval of unions is at a 15-year high:

  • 64% of Americans approve of labor unions;
  • Since 1970, approval was higher only in 1999 (66%) and 2003 (65%); and
  • Union approval is up 16 points from 2008, with party groups showing similar increases.