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Duke study says being in a union is good for your health

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 6/29/2012, 11:29 a.m.

A new study suggests that union employees are healthier than nonunion workers.

David Brady and Megan Reynolds, from Duke University's sociology department, recently released a report titled "Bringing You More Than the Weekend: Union Membership and Self-rated Health in the United States," which showed union membership is good for the heart and the wallet.

"Previous research suggests that higher incomes, safe workplaces, job security and health care access all contribute to favorable health," reads a summary of the report. "Reflecting the interest of economic and political sociologists in power relations and institutions, union membership has been linked with many such influences on health. Nevertheless, the potential relationship between union membership and health has received little attention.

"Using logistic regression and propensity score matching, this study examines the association between union membership and self-rated health generally and among select subgroups of the workforce with the General Social Survey from 1973 to 2006," continued the report.

The study examined survey responses from over 11,000 full-time union and nonunion workers and found that 85 percent of union workers were in good health, compared to 82 percent of nonunion workers. The 3 percent gap represents 3.7 million workers in America. Unions make up only 11 percent of the country's workforce.

When asked if this study will play into the national conversation on health and the workplace, Brady told the AmNews, "I'm afraid I worry that the benefits of unionization will not get as much attention as they deserve. I do wish that managers, state governments and others would have a longer-term vision regarding unionization. I worry managers and state governments instinctively oppose unionization because they're worried about costs."

Brady further argued that unions have long-term benefits for firms, states and municipalities, among others. Unions enhance the health and well-being of workers, may make workers more productive and can reduce health care costs.

Brady said he wasn't too worried about how the study might be politicized in the ongoing battle between business-friendly politicians and their pro-union adversaries.The study controlled for demographics and understood that gender and race plays into good and bad health.

"Unions may disproportionately benefit less advantaged workers," read the report. "Such workers are also more likely to suffer less favorable health. To explore whether the effects of union membership differ by socioeconomic status, we decompose the final logistic regression models by education and income"

While the results of the study may not do much for those who are heavily pro- or anti-union, Brady hopes it changes the approach of those who study health for a living, especially when it involves places of employment.

"Our study encourages health scholars to devote even greater attention to workplaces and, more generally, to collective actors and institutions," read the report's concluding statement. "Because labor unions are often understood as a collective actor shaping wages and income through power relations, this pushes the causal origins of health even further back into the political and institutional sources of income."