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Union Density Decline Hurt Men the Most

EPI estimates that the deline in union density has cost men about $3,250 a year

Brian Young's picture
Apr 08, 2021

For over 40 years, companies and politicians have been working to decrease the rights and power that workers have. This has resulted in fewer people being in a union and fewer people working under a collective bargaining agreement. A new study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has revealed just how bad the loss of collective bargaining rights has hurt American workers.

According to their report of the average median worker, EPI found that the decline in unionization has resulted in the loss of $1.56 per hour worked or about $3,250 for a full-time, full-year worker. This means that wages have been lowered by about 7.9% from 1979 until 2017. In 1979 about 27% of workers were in a union, but by 2019 that number had fallen to 11.6%.

Men have been especially hard hit by this loss in income, with the average male losing $5,171 a year in wages. In 1979 men were much more likely to be in a union, with 31.5% working under a collective bargaining agreement compared to 18.8% of women. Declining union rates have also helped widen the inequality gap with a 23.2-point increase in the wage gap between earners in the top 10% and the 50% earners in the middle class.

There is also a spillover effect that hurts non-union workers as well. EPI estimates that if private-sector union rates had stayed the same as they did in 1979, weekly wages for non-union men would be about 5% higher, an increase of about $2,704. When the study pulled out just non-college-educated workers' salaries would have increased 8%, or about $3,016 a year. This result isn’t surprising as union workers often raise the going rate in a community for work, so while a non-union company might not pay as well as a union workplace, they have to keep their wages competitive with union employers.

The report also found that contrary to popular belief, the decline in unionization was not caused by globalization or a lack of interest in unions but rather a coordinated corporate attack on unions. To prove this they looked at public opinion polls from the late ’70s, the mid-’90s, and the late 2010s and found that throughout about 1/3 of nonunion workers said they would join a union and that number actually increased to 48% in 2017. That represents 58 million workers who wish they could join a union. They also cited a report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development analysis that found that globalization moves such as the outsourcing of the manufacturing sector had little impact on the decline in collective bargaining rights. Instead, EPI points to the corporate attack on unions that reduced new union elections at private employers from a high of 1.2% in the ’50s and 60’s to just .3% in the ’80s and .1% in the 2000s. They say that much of this decline in new union elections came from increased employer aggressiveness and the use of tactics such as captive audience meetings, threats to shut down or relocate job locations, firing of union organizers, the birth of the anti-union consultant, and companies delaying the voting process.

The full report from EPI can be read here.

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