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RELEASE: Unions increase California workers’ earnings by $18.5 billion annually

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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 shows that by bargaining together through unions, California workers increase their earnings by approximately $5,800 per worker annually, for a combined total of $18.5 billion. Union workers also have more access to health and retirement benefits, thereby reducing reliance on the state’s public safety net programs.

The study, “The Union Effect in California #1: Wages, Benefits, and Use of Public Safety Net Programs,” is the first 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.

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.

“Collective bargaining remains the last chance entry to prosperity in the face of falling middle class income and anti-worker laws, such as last week’s Supreme Court ruling that strips workers of their right to sue collectively,” said Ken Jacobs, Labor Center chair and co-author of the report. “Our report shows that on average, a California worker earns $5,800 more annually when they are in a union.”

“We find that for California workers, a union contract means higher wages and increased access to health insurance and retirement plans at work – and this has a ripple effect on local economies,” said Sarah Thomason, Labor Center Research and Policy Associate and co-author of the report.

The researchers drew from sources including data from the US Census Bureau and US Bureau of Labor Statistics to examine the effect of union collective bargaining on wages, benefits, and enrollment in public safety net programs in California.

Access the report here. Key findings include:

  • Workers covered by a union contract in California earn an average of 12.9 percent more than their non-union peers with similar ages and educational attainment working in similar industries.
  • Overall, a union contract increases an individual worker’s annual earnings by $5,800, for a combined total of $18.5 billion across California. In low-income regions like the San Joaquin Valley, the difference is more dramatic, increasing a worker’s earnings on average by $7,000 each year.
  • 670,000 more Californians have health insurance through their employer as a result of collective bargaining.
  • 830,000 more Californians are offered a retirement plan by their employer as a result of collective bargaining.
  • Unions decrease by 30.6 percent the likelihood that a worker is in a family where at least one member is enrolled in a public safety net program, compared to non-union workers with similar demographic characteristics and working in similar industries.
  • Unions decrease by 30.9 percent the likelihood that a worker is in a family with at least one member enrolled in Medi-Cal, compared to non-union workers with similar demographic characteristics and working in similar industries.

Two upcoming reports in the Union Effect in California series will look at how unions increase racial and gender workplace equity and 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. For more about the Labor Center, visit laborcenter.berkeley.edu.