If You’re Surprised By America’s Wage Stagnation, Then You’re Not Paying Attention

Larry Willis

Larry Willis President of AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the economy and how well it’s doing. The unemployment rate has steadily fallen for years now, and jobs are being created.

But wages? Not so much.

The latest jobs report shows that while the unemployment rate remains low, wages aren’t keeping up with inflation. Instead, they are falling flat.

Some economists and policymakers seem baffled — but TTD and our affiliated unions aren’t.

Yes, there are a number of reasons for this trend. But, as we reflect ahead of Labor Day, it is clear that anti-union policies, like so-called “right to work” laws, and failure to invest in our crumbling infrastructure are contributing factors that need to be called out and addressed.

Unions act as a check against corporate power, making union representation one of the most reliable ways for working people to improve their quality of life and secure a living wage. In fact, data shows a direct correlationbetween high union density and higher wages and better benefits. And while union members are more likely to have a pension, employer-paid health insurance, and earn an average of 13.2 percent more than their non-union counterparts, the union difference doesn’t just affect those covered by collective bargaining agreements. Strong union contracts influence competition, driving up wages, benefits, and standards of living for non-union workers too.

So what happens when working people don’t have access to unions? Take a look around – we’re seeing it right now. While millions of Americans struggle just to get by, the average CEO makes nearly $14 million annually – 200 times what an average employee earns. This is not a coincidence. It is the result of ruthless, decades-long attacks on the rights of working people to demand better for themselves and their families.

As for all those jobs being created, it is time we ask ourselves what kind of jobs they are. Based on an analysis from MIT’s living wage calculator, it takes a typical family of four (two adults, two children) more than $58,000 annually to have their basic needs met. A minimum-wage, non-union job just won’t cut it.

This country needs more good jobs — the kind that allow people to own a car, buy a house, and put their kids through college. Attacks on the rights of working people to negotiate together for better wages and benefits are not the only reasons these jobs are lacking. Failure by political leaders to invest in our nation’s transportation system hasn’t just left us with infrastructure that’s crumbling and dangerous — this inaction has also resulted in missed opportunities to create as many as 900,000 long-term, good paying jobs, annually.

Thanks to high union density in transportation and infrastructure industries, people working in these sectors — including frontline workers who build, operate, and maintain our transportation system — earn higher pay, better benefits, and more job security than their low-wage counterparts. In fact, at $38,480, the median annual wage paid by occupations in infrastructure is nearly $4,000 higher than the national median wage.

When Congress considers transportation and infrastructure spending, TTD and our affiliated unions will fight for policies that ensure these investments will continue to create the type of jobs we know our country needs. We cannot support an infrastructure plan that threatens long-standing labor standards or undermines the collective bargaining rights of working people.

There are ways to turn things around and make our economy work for everyone. But doing so requires taking a stand against the rich and powerful — something working people cannot do alone. America needs a commitment from political leaders on both sides of the aisle, not only to invest boldly in infrastructure, but to end attacks on the rights of working families, and understand that strong unions aren’t part of the problem — they are part of the solution.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work