Young workers do better with unions

For young workers who may not know what the advantages of being in a union are, the question “What’s a union gonna do for me?” was answered in a report released last week by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The report detailed good news and bad news. The bad news is that workers aged 18-29 have the lowest unionization rates of any age group. They have been hit hardest by the stagnant wage growth over the last three decades. This is despite a substantial increase in the number of young workers with college degrees.

The good news is young workers who are in a union make an average of 12.4 percent, or about $1.75 an hour, more than non-union workers. They are also 17 percent more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 24 percent more likely to have a pension plan.

According to American Rights at Work, the Employee Free Choice Act would give workers a fair and direct path to form unions through majority sign-up, help employees secure a contract with their employer in a reasonable period of time and toughen penalties against employers who violate their rights. Sen. Barack Obama not only supports the legislation, but is a co-sponsor. Sen. McCain opposes it completely.

For young workers in the lowest-wage occupations, the study shows the contrast between union and non-union is even starker. The median young worker in a unionized low-wage occupation earned $10.62, almost two dollars an hour more than the $8.74 the median non-union young worker earned. These benefits also carried over into their health care coverage, where 40 percent of union workers are covered vs. less than 20 percent of non-union workers, and 29 percent had a pension compared to only 11 percent of their non-union counterparts.

In these tough economic times, the union advantage is not only strong, but obvious and necessary. If young workers are to survive, thrive and build a solid future, we must make sure the Employee Free Choice Act is enacted.

Melissa O’Rourke ( is a young worker and member of the Communist Party’s labor commission.