The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) kicked off what it’s designating as a new Labor Day tradition by holding a “State of the Unions” event in Washington, D.C., this week.
“Every year, we’re going to come together and talk about where working people stand in this country,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler promised those attending the inaugural event.
“For a long time, working people in this country have felt powerless; they’ve been powerless. But here is the truth that we’re going to talk about today: Working people are reclaiming our power. Working people are taking on the companies that have exploited us for a long time now. The State of the Unions is on the rise. We are on the rise with every strike, every picket line, every win we deliver for workers all over this country.”
The State of the Unions event touted the strength of union membership and is promoting labor union organizing with the idea that #ItsBetterInAUnion. Shuler pointed to a new poll conducted by the political research firm GBAO that found support for unions is at an all-time high. Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all look favorably upon unions, according to poll results. In fact, among those surveyed, GBAO found “the want and need for unions is greatest among those” who are under 30.
“Across every metric tested, voters under 30 show wide support for labor unions with near universal approval (88%) and support for strikes (90%). Yet this group is also more likely to say it’s hard to join a union and should be easier.”
The poll also found that, “[u]nions are seen as more needed than before, and most believe having more workers in unions would be a boon for society. Compared to the past, twice as many voters say labor unions are more needed (57%) today than less needed (30%). Voters also believe more workers in unions would benefit society at large, with a majority (51%) saying society would be better off compared to just a third (34%) saying it would not be better off.”
The day before the AFL-CIO’s inaugural State of the Unions event, the Biden-Harris White House issued its own analytical report about union power. The Treasury Department and the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, which is chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris, argue in their “Labor Unions and the Middle Class” report that strong union membership buttresses the economy.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen explained in a press call that “[u]nions raise the wages of their members by around 10 to 15%. We also observe that union workers have greater access to critical fringe benefits, such as retirement benefits, medical benefits, and life insurance. Unions also impact personnel practices, bringing about better workplace grievance systems and improved workplace safety…
“Importantly,” she added, “our research also finds that unions fuel equality. Today’s unions benefit all demographic groups. Unions reduce race and gender wage gaps by encouraging explicit anti-discrimination measures and egalitarian wage practices. Working parents, including mothers, benefit from more scheduling predictability, which is more likely in unionized workplaces. And Black men, who have the highest union membership rates of any demographic groups, have also been particularly hit by the trends experienced by the middle class as a whole. They therefore may be particularly poised to benefit from unionization.”
The revived labor movement is a welcome sign for members of the AFL-CIO, which is a compilation of 56 affiliated unions.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond pointed to the way unions have historically been able to change the lives of its members across the United States. He deemed Labor Day “a day that’s rooted in resistance.”
“It’s a day when we’re forced to remember that it was the labor movement that marched and sacrificed to end child labor,” Redmond said. “We challenged inhumane working conditions. It was the labor movement that created safety standards. Think about it: We transformed grim, dangerous jobs into good, family-sustaining careers. Industry by industry, unions helped build the middle class and we should never forget that––we should never forget that!”
“The idea of a union may sound complicated, but in reality, unions are just a group of people coming together,” said Shuler said. “They are about each of us becoming the most powerful version of ourselves that we possibly can. And there is nothing better than finding that power alongside the people we work with and being a part of something bigger than ourselves. That’s all a union is. It’s that simple.”