Actually, Carly, Unions are the Great Pay Equalizer

Liz Shuler

Liz Shuler Secretary-treasurer/Chief Financial Officer, AFL-CIO

As the race for 2016 heats up, more candidates are hitting the campaign trail to promote their policy initiatives and issue stances in an effort to win votes. Equal pay, an issue that is close to my heart and those of millions of working women across the United States, recently got pulled into the spotlight due to Carly Fiorina. Fiorina, a former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard who announced her bid for the presidency on Monday, has expressed misguided ideas over what actually causes the gender pay gap.

According to Fiorina, “The single greatest impediment to equal pay for equal work is the seniority system, which pays not on merit and not on performance, but on time and grade.” Fiorina specifically points to unions as supporting workplaces that foster pay discrepancies between men and women workers.

Not only is it ironic for a woman who laid off 30,000 workers and still received a $20 million severance package to talk about wage gaps at all but Fiorina’s logic that unions inherently encourage the gender pay gap is flawed.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has shown that the gender wage gap among union members is half the size of the wage gap among non-union workers. In fact, union women working full time earn on overage 90.6% of what their male peers earn while nonunion women working full time are paid 81.3% of what their male peers earn. Union women are 21% more likely than nonunion women to have access to paid sick days and union members enjoy the reliability of fair scheduling.

Even renowned economists like Claudia Goldin agree that “the places where unions have been the strongest are the places that have very narrow gaps.” The wage gap for union members fell 2.6 cents between 2012 and 2013 but was virtually unchanged for non-union workers and the pay gap between union women and men earning a weekly median wage is nearly $40 less than the gap between nonunion women and men.

But the union benefit for women goes far beyond just facts and figures. The AFL-CIO represents nearly seven million women workers all across the United States. Every single one of those women has a voice on the job thanks to her union and the power of collective bargaining.

Women like United Steelworkers (USW) member Tiffaney Lewis who is grateful that her union job at a plant in Colorado allows her to provide for her two young children. Tiffaney understands that “being a part of a union means that I can walk into my plant every day and know that as a woman, I will earn equal pay.” Having a voice on the job through her union allows Tiffaney access to medical care for herself and her family and a fair wage that allows her to afford extracurricular activities for her children.

It’s not just women who benefit from having a voice on the job.

Both women and men union members have the ability to negotiate for certain terms in their work contract and members often push for measures that level the playing field such as equal pay for equal work and co-worker salary visibility. Women in unions are 36% more likely to receive health insurance benefits through their jobs and are more likely to have access to paid sick days.

Each of these protective measures is the reason why thousands of workers from New York City to San Francisco are organizing to gain a stronger voice on the job. Both men and women agree that when women are paid what they deserve, every worker wins. So the next time Carly Fiorina is approached by a woman whose paycheck is being shortchanged due to the gender pay gap, she should tell her to join a union.


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Liz Shuler is the secretary-treasurer/chief financial officer of the AFL-CIO, one of three top-level officers for the federation and the first-ever woman elected to the position. Coming from Portland, Ore., Liz has been at the forefront of such progressive labor initiatives as green jobs programs and the fight for workers’ rights for many years, starting as a political activist and an organizer at the local union level.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Powering America

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

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And even as these natural disasters wreaked havoc across the country, COVID-19 stay-at-home orders sparked a surge in residential electrical demand, placing new stress on a failing system.

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Built in the 1950s and 60s, most of America’s electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure lives on borrowed time. Engineers never designed it to withstand today’s increasingly frequent and catastrophic storms fueled by climate change, let alone the threats posed by hackers and terrorists.

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Also, a shift toward more localized generation and distribution networks would limit the impact of any one power outage.

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Stronger Together