Belonging to a union hasn’t been a cure-all for workers during the pandemic. However, this past year has shown that being represented by a union can provide job security during these uncertain times.
While union leaders and workers’ rights advocates have been calling for lawmakers to improve the economic equality of workers for decades, this pandemic has proven how vital unions and the protections provided to union members are to the nation’s workforce.
Today, we will look at how union membership and unionization rates are shifting, and how being part of a union has protected union workers’ jobs throughout the pandemic.
How Many Workers Are Represented by a Union?
In 2020, the number of workers represented by a union dropped to 15.9 million, a decline of 444,000 since 2019. While the number of union workers decreased, the unionization rate increased, but is still down over fifty percent of what it was four decades ago.
These numbers include workers who are members of a union as well as those who are not members but are still represented by the union due to their workplace being unionized.
Do Workers Want Unions?
Looking at the statistics above showing that union representation has declined, that brings about the question, are workers genuinely interested in being part of a union?
In a 2017 survey, 48% of nonunion workers said that, if given the opportunity, they would vote in favor of a union.
You may wonder, ‘If workers want to be in a union and one is not available, why don’t they organize one?’ It is entirely possible that workers still want to have a voice when it comes to their employment, but they may not have the power to demand their own say, or they don’t know where to begin when it comes to forming a union.
It is also not always easy to organize a union if an employer does not want a union formed. Many times, when an employer finds out that employees are trying to organize a union, those employees experience repercussions, up to and including termination of employment.
Employers have also been known to spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year hiring consultants who can instruct them on how they can legally block the formation of a union in their business.
What Problems Have Nonunion Workers Have Faced During the Pandemic?
Throughout the pandemic, nonunion, lower-level employees have taken the brunt of the economic hardships. Although considered “essential” workers, they are also working on an at-will basis. This means that they have no protection against layoffs, furloughs, or suspensions, and they can be terminated with or without justification, advance notice, and with no severance.
Many nonunion employees have also found themselves without adequate health and safety gear during the pandemic. When workers have brought up their health and safety concerns, some have even been terminated. And while unionized workers have also experienced similar issues, they have the added benefit of collective bargaining power and the legal might of a union standing up for them.
How Has Unionization Saved Jobs During the Pandemic?
How is it possible that there was a decline in the number of workers represented by a union, but the unionization rate rose? It’s a simple answer. Union workers were not as likely to lose their jobs as nonunion workers throughout the pandemic, even if both workers were in the same industry.
An example is the wholesale and retail world, a sector that has been hardest hit in the past year. Over 700,000 workers lost their jobs, but the union increased by 46,000 members.
Unionized workers, in general, have been able to negotiate terms for furloughs or work-share arrangements, which saved jobs. Some were even able to negotiate salary cuts in exchange for saving jobs. Not only did this allow workers to retain their positions within the company, but it also allowed the workers to keep their health insurance in place.
How the Pandemic Has Shown a Need for More Unionization
If there is one thing that has been brought to light during the pandemic, it is that more workers, especially the essential workers that we rely on daily, need to have a voice in the workplace. It is imperative to ensure that their best interest is taken into account during situations such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Unions have provided extra protection for the members they represent throughout the pandemic. By organizing new unions, workers can gain the power that they need to negotiate policies with their employers that are in their best interest.
Trust Sundquist Law Firm
2021 is shaping up to be a definitive year for labor unions across the country, and Sundquist Law Firm wants you to know that we’re on your side. Our work with the Union Construction Workers’ Compensation Program and workers’ compensation laws firmly put our team on the side of workers.
If you need a worker’s compensation attorney or work injury lawyer to help you navigate Minnesota worker’s compensation, reach out to us today for a free consultation.