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Center for Labor Research and Education

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RELEASE: Unions raise wages and increase benefits for women, workers of color, and immigrants in California

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For Immediate Release

CONTACT: Institute for Research on Labor and Employment Communications (510) 604-2289
Jacqueline Sullivan jsullivan@berkeley.edu
or Penelope Whitney penelopewhitney@berkeley.edu

Berkeley — A new study from UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education (Labor Center) shows that workers in California have higher wages and greater access to benefits when covered by a union contract, and those workers who earn the least in non-union workplaces — women, people of color, and immigrants — gain the most.

The researchers published the findings as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to issue a ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees that threatens to weaken public sector unions.

The study, “The Union Effect in California #2: Gains for Women, Workers of Color, and Immigrants,” is the second in a series. The reports show how unions improve the lives of all working people in California, both union and non-union members, and put dollars into local economies.

“Our report shows that while union coverage does not eliminate gaps in wages, it increases race and gender equity in the workplace,” said Annette Bernhardt, Director of the Low-Wage Work Program at the UC Berkeley Labor Center and co-author of the report.

The authors identify multiple reasons for this union effect. Collective bargaining agreements often standardize wage rates across similar occupations doing similar tasks, and establish objective procedures for hiring and awarding raises and promotions. Unions can narrow the wage gap between workers with different skills; they can also increase skill levels by providing high-quality apprenticeships and other training programs for workers without college degrees. Unions also often bargain for pay transparency and grievance procedures for discrimination cases.

“All of these measures can reduce wage differentials and occupational segregation in the workplace itself, as well as help offset the negative career effects of unequal access to good schools and job-hiring networks,” according to Sarah Thomason, Research and Policy Associate at the UC Berkeley Labor Center and co-author of the report.

The researchers used the Current Population Survey for California to analyze worker’s wages and access to health insurance and retirement benefits at their job by race, gender, and foreign-born status for union and non-union workers.

You can access the complete report here.

Key findings include:

  • Union coverage increases wages by 26 percent for women, compared to 15 percent for men.
  • Black and Latino/a workers see a bigger increase in their wages as a result of union coverage (19 percent for Black workers and 40 percent for Latino/a workers) compared to White workers (9 percent).
  • For women, the likelihood of having employer-sponsored health insurance is 32 percentage points higher for union workers compared to non-union workers (76% versus 44%). For male workers, the gain from union coverage is 25 percentage points.
  • For workers of color, the likelihood of having employer-sponsored health insurance is 34 percentage points higher for union workers compared to non-union workers. For White workers, the gain from union coverage is 21 percentage points.
  • For foreign-born workers, the likelihood of having employer-sponsored health insurance is 37 percentage points higher for union workers compared to non-union workers. For U.S. born workers, the gain from union coverage is 24 percentage points.
  • Access to a retirement plan at work is 37 percentage points greater for women in unions, compared to 33 percentage points for men in unions.
  • Access to a retirement plan at work is 37 percentage points greater for people of color covered by a union contract, compared to 32 percentage points for White workers covered by a union contract.

The first report in the Union Effect in California series looks at “Wages, Benefits, and Public Safety Net Programs,” and the final, forthcoming report highlights how unions have supported policy initiatives that benefit all Californians.

CONTACT

Sarah Thomason, report co-author, Research and Policy Associate, Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley, sarahthomason@berkeley.edu, (510) 415-5194. Sarah is available for interviews in English and Spanish.

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The Center for Labor Research and Education (Labor Center) is a public service project of the UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE). For more about the Labor Center, visit laborcenter.berkeley.edu.