You wake up; brush your teeth; get dressed. Maybe you make breakfast and send your kids off to school. You get into a car, or a bus, or a train, and commute to work. You spend the day building, or writing, or creating, or filing, or otherwise doing your job; and you do all this knowing that – despite years of hard work – you’re making less money than the men around you.
This is the reality for millions of working women.
Next month, we’ll mark Equal Pay Day – the day by which women who work full-time earn what men earned the year previously. But today, a full month earlier, is Union Women Equal Pay Day. The facts and evidence are clear: union membership significantly reduces the pay gap between men and women. In 2022, the earnings ratio between union women and union men was 89.6 percent, compared to 82.0 between women and men not covered by union contracts. This is just one of the many reasons that Congress should act to pass the PRO Act, bolstering the right to form a union and collectively bargain in the workplace.
The facts are simple: unionized women earn higher wages. Women covered by a union contract earn, on average, $203 per week more than non-unionized women, a 21.9 percent increase. And it’s not just about pay. IWPR research also shows that women in unions have stronger employer-sponsored benefits: they’re more likely than other women to have an employer-sponsored pension or retirement plan, and more likely to receive health insurance from their employer.
In every single state, union women out earn women in non-union jobs. However, in so-called “right-to-work” states, where state laws limit the bargaining power of unions, wages for workers (regardless of gender or union membership status) are lower. The basic federal labor law intended to protect the rights of workers to unionize and bargain collectively, the National Labor Relations Act, has been in place for almost 100 years but has been weakened over time. More than 60 million workers, or nearly half of all non-union workers, would join a union if given the chance. A paper from the Economic Policy Institute shows that employers are charged with breaking the law in more than 40% of all union organizing elections. Current federal law is insufficient to protect the rights of workers to organize and to bargain collectively
That’s where the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act comes in. The PRO Act amends the National Labor Relations Act and other decades-old federal labor laws to shore up the rights – and collective power — of workers. Among other things, the bill would, for the first time, create penalties for employers who retaliate against workers trying to unionize. By revising definitions of contractor vs. employee, the bill would open the potential of union membership and collective bargaining to hundreds of thousands of workers.
The PRO Act has cleared the House twice now, most recently in March 2021 by a vote of 225 – 206; however, in both cases, the Senate failed to take action. In his February 2023 State of the Union Address, President Biden issued a call to Congress to protect the rights of workers and to finally send this legislation to his desk.
The facts are clear: unions aren’t just good for workers, they’re good for women. Union membership and collective bargaining isn’t a panacea for all the challenges, inequities, and barriers that women face in the workplace, but the data and evidence all adds up to underscore the importance of unions in closing the gender pay gap. That’s why, as we mark Union Women Equal Pay Day today, IWPR is calling on Congress to enact the PRO Act, and to legislatively protect the power of unions to collectively bargain for better pay, better working conditions, and better benefits.