The Union Advantage

The Union Advantage: Facts and Figures

Being a member of a union can have a direct impact on the quality of life for you and your family.  

In the United States in 2009, 13.7 percent–over 15 million–of all wage and salary workers were represented by a union. This number is up from 13.3 percent in 2007.

A report released by the Bureau of National Affairs shows SEIU has organized the most workers of any union so far in 2010. In 2008, nearly a quarter of all American workers that formed unions joined SEIU.

Our members know that by working together, we can improve both the quality of services we provide and the communities in which we live.

Here’s a snapshot of the “union difference” across the American workforce, highlighting facts from research recently conducted by the Center for American Progress, The Bureau of Labor Statistics, UC Berkeley Labor Center, Labor Project for Working Families, the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the Employee Benefits Research Institute.

Workers’ Pay Is Higher When They’re In A Union
Video: Union Strong
The median weekly earnings of union workers are 28 percent higher than non-union workers.

According to a January 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, workers who belong to a union typically earn higher pay than non-union workers doing the same kind of job. Although it varies based on sector and occupation, the overall averages are striking.

$917 = Median weekly earnings in 2010 of union members.

$717 = Median weekly earnings in 2010 of non-union workers.

That’s a yearly difference in salary of $10,400 for union members vs. non-union members.

Union members earn an average of $4.95 more per hour – which equates to a yearly difference of $10,300.

Although it varies based on sector and occupation, the union difference for workers across the board is undeniable.

For workers employed in the public sector:

  • The difference in salary amounts to roughly $165 more a week–approximately $650 more a month–for union vs. non-union.

For workers employed in the private sector:

  • The salary difference for union vs. non-union amounts to roughly $155 more a week–approximately $615 more a month.

Union workers in many healthcare fields also earn higher salaries than their non-union counterparts:

  • Registered Nurses (16% higher); Nursing Aides (22% higher)
  • Diagnostic Technicians (31% higher)
  • Other healthcare support occupations – 33%
Greater Access to Healthcare Coverage; Lower Cost
In 2009, 92 percent of union employees in the U.S. had access to health care benefits, compared to only 68 percent of non-union workers.

The union advantage is even greater when you compare the percentages of union vs. non-union workers receiving specific benefits:

  • Dental Care: Union, 70% | Non-union: 44%
  • Vision care: Union, 53% | Non-union: 24%
  • Prescription drug benefits: Union, 90% | Non-union, 68%

Union workers nationwide are 28.2 percent more likely to be covered by employer-provided health insurance.

Union workers also pay less out of pocket for their insurance than non-unionized workers do.

  • Union workers, on average, pay 11 percent of premiums for individual coverage and 18 percent of premiums for family coverage.
  • Companies with 30 percent or more unionized workers are five times as likely to have their entire family health insurance premium paid for, in comparison to companies with no unionized workers.

Non-union workers pay much more for their insurance:

  • 20 percent for individual coverage and 33 percent for family coverage.
Paid Leave
  • Union workers get 28 percent more days of paid vacation, on average, than non-union workers.
  • 82 percent of union workers have paid sick leave, compared to 63 percent of nonunion workers.
  • 46 percent of unionized workers receive full pay while on sick leave, versus only 29 percent of non-union workers.
A More Secure Retirement
  • Nationally, 77 percent of union employees in 2009 were covered by pension plans that provide a guaranteed monthly retirement income. Only 20 percent of non-union workers are covered by guaranteed (defined-benefit) pensions 20%.
  • Union workers are 53.9 percent more likely to have employer-provided pensions.

Demographics Of The Union Difference


Women make up 45 percent of union workers and by 2020, will be the majority of the unionized workforce. 

  • Unionization raises female workers’ wages by $2.00/hour (or 11.2 percent)

Women are also:

  • 19 percent more likely to have employer paid health insurance and
  • 24.7 percent more likely to have pension.
  • Joining a union has a much larger effect on a woman’s probability of having health insurance than a four-year college degree (8.4 percent increase).

Unionized women of color earn almost 35% percent more than non-union women of color.

  • 10.7 percent of unionized workers are Latino (up from 9.8% in 2007)
  • Latinos represent the largest growth rate of unionized workers–in 2008, more than 140,000 Hispanics became union members.
  • Unionization raises Latino workers’ wages by $2.60/hour (17.1 percent) and makes them 26 percent more likely to have employer paid health insurance and 27 percent more likely to have pension.
  • Low-wage Latinos who belong to a union are 41 percent more likely to have employer-paid health insurance.
African Americans
  • 54 percent of all full-time Black workers in the United States receive low wages, working for $12.87 an hour or less
  • Unionization raises African American workers’ wages by $2.00/hour (11.2 percent)
Low-wage Workers
  • Unionization raises the wages of the typical low-wage worker (one in the 10th percentile) by 20.6 percent.
  • Among women workers in the 15 lowest-paying occupations, female union members earn 14 percent more than those workers who were not in unions.
Unions Bring Economic Gains

When unions are strong and able to represent the people who want to join them, these gains spread throughout the economy.

Workers who form unions are able to boost wages, which helps attract and retain staff.
When non-union companies increase their wages, it gives all workers more purchasing power.
Unionized workers also provide a counterbalance on unchecked CEO greed and promote greater income equality.

Without Unions, Wages Haven’t Come Close to Keeping up with Productivity or Inflation

Prior to the 1980s, productivity gains and workers’ wages moved in tandem. But from 1980 to 2008, nationwide worker productivity grew by 75 percent, while workers’ inflation-adjusted average wages increased by only 22.6 percent.

This means that over the course of the last 30 years or so, workers were compensated for only 30.2 percent of their productivity gains.

If American workers were rewarded for 100 percent of their increases in labor productivity between 1980 and 2008, as they were during the middle part of the 20th century, average wages would be $28.53 per hour–42.7 percent higher than the average real wage was in 2008.

Greater Unionization Could Pump Billions Into the U.S. Economy.

A February 2009 report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund found that a modest increase in unionization rates would help restore the broken link between productivity and wage gains, pumping tens of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy. According to the report,

“If unionization rates were the same as they were in 1983 and the current union wage premium remained constant, new union workers would earn an estimated $49.0 billion more in wages and salaries per year.”

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