The “union difference” for women isn’t just about dollars and cents, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler told Progressive Congress last week. At a When Women Succeed America Succeeds luncheon held by the nonprofit foundation associated with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Shuler said the 6.5 million women in U.S. unions also use their voice on the job to improve benefits, lift working conditions in whole industries and make progressive change in politics and legislation.
“Women who can bargain collectively aren’t settling for the ‘Mad Men’ environment President Obama joked about in his State of the Union address,” she told participants, who included progressive champions like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), Donna Edwards (Md.) and Keith Ellison (Minn.). “Women with bargaining agreements are blazing trails on family-friendly policies that allow women to rise—retirement security, flexible schedules, paid family leave and paid sick leave.”
Of course, the dollars and cents part of the union difference is crucial, too. That comes to $222 a week for the typical woman worker in a union, compared with her nonunion peer, Shuler said.
When enough women have bargaining power in an industry, she said, it pushes up wages throughout entire industries where women predominate, such as nursing and teaching. “Those jobs help build the middle class. And women in unions bargaining together over time made those jobs into careers that could support a family. With most of our country’s future job growth expected in low-wage occupations, think of the difference it could make if more women in jobs like home care and hospitality could bargain collectively.”
In the legislative arena, she said, America’s union women are using their collective voice to tackle income inequality and build prosperity for all, including raising the minimum wage, creating good jobs, strengthening retirement security and fixing our broken immigration system so 11 million aspiring Americans have a real pathway to citizenship.