Friday, July 20, 2018

Money Crashers: Labor Unions in the United States

I got the idea for my latest Money Crashers post while working on another Money Crashers article (not yet published) about the gender wage gap in America. One fact I learned while researching it was that women who belong to labor unions earn about 30% more per week than non-unionized women and are also more likely to have access to benefits. I thought that when covering this fact, it would be useful to link to an existing article about labor unions to give readers some background—and to my surprise, I found there wasn't one.

This seemed like an important omission to fix, because labor unions have played a big role in the history of the American workplace, particularly during the 20th century. Indeed, many scholars have noted that the much-lamented decline of the middle class has occurred more or less in parallel with the decline of unions. And given that frustrated workers are generally given the credit for putting Donald Trump into office, banking on his promise to "make America great again," it's worth considering how much of the past greatness they're longing for—specifically, a strong economy and abundant jobs, even for those without higher education or specialized training—could be credited to the labor movement.

So my new article delves into all those topics. I start with an ultra-basic explanation of what unions do, in terms of both collective bargaining and political activity. Then I give a quick run-down of the rise and fall of labor unions in America and contrast the state of labor unions today in the USA and the rest of the world. I explore the concrete benefits unions can offer, both for their workers and for society as a whole—along with their legitimate downsides. And finally, I explore some ideas for improving unions so they could continue to bring their benefits to society with fewer drawbacks.

It's a dense, chewy topic, but it's worth a look if you have the time.

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