(Jan. 27, 2017) — An estimated 539,000 Washington state residents belonged to labor unions in 2016, a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows, an increase of 39,000 from the previous year. Although union membership levels dropped nationally as Republican state lawmakers passed more union-busting “right-to-work” laws, union membership rose in many free-bargaining states like Washington, where the union membership level increased from to 16.8 percent in 2015 to 17.4 percent last year.
“Union growth in Washington state is good for everyone,” said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “Union members earn more, spend more in their communities, and lift working standards for all of us. Polls and surveys show that people want to join unions. These numbers demonstrate that, unless they are hindered by outdated or hostile labor laws, people will stand together and form unions.”
Union members earn higher wages, with average weekly earnings of $1,004 compared to $802 for nonunion, according to the new BLS report. With union wages averaging 25 percent higher than nonunion wages, full-time union members make more than $52,000 per year on average, which is $10,500 more than nonunion workers.
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With its 17.4 percent union membership rate, Washington is now the 5th most unionized state in the nation, behind New York (23.6), Hawaii (19.9), Alaska (18.5), and Connecticut (17.5). But the national membership rate is now just 10.7 percent, driven down by so-called “right-to-work” states like South Carolina (1.6), North Carolina (3.0), Arkansas (3.9), and Louisiana (4.2).
Right-to-work laws ban unions and employers from agreeing to union-security clauses that require everyone covered by the contract to pay a fair-share representation fee. These laws, which have racist origins, promote “free riders” who pay nothing but still require the union to represent everyone, regardless of whether they pay a fee. (It’s like allowing people to opt out of paying taxes but still getting to benefit from government services.) Right-to-work laws weaken unions financially, make it much harder to organize workplaces and negotiate contracts, and result in those states having lower wages.
In addition to earning higher wages, another federal report recently showed that union members are far more likely to have employer-provided retirement and health care benefits than their nonunion counterparts.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics found:
— 95 percent of union workers had the option of an employer-sponsored health care plan, compared to 69 percent of nonunion workers;
— 94 percent of union workers had the option of an employer-sponsored retirement plan, compared to 65 percent of nonunion workers; and
— 93 percent of union workers had the option of an employee-sponsored prescription drug insurance, compared to 67 percent of nonunion workers.
In addition, the quality of the benefits provided to union workers typically was better, the data showed. For example, workers were expected to contribute 19 percent toward the cost of the family’s health care under union-negotiated benefits plans, while nonunion workers were forced to shell out 35 percent of the cost, which represents an 84 percent increase in out-of-pocket costs.
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