April 30, 2007
As the American Association of University Women new report, Behind the Pay Gap clearly demonstrates, (article by Amy Joyce, Wash Post, April 29) the wage gap between women and men remains a serious and pervasive problem for professional women, as for women in every occupational category. And it’s a gap exists right from the start, despite women’s superior academic performance.
In discussing remedies, the article neglected to mention an important source of help. Union representation is a proven and powerful means for raising wages, especially for those most subject to labor market discrimination, such as women and minorities. In 2006, union women earned weekly wages that were almost 24 percent higher than those of nonunion women. Earnings for African American, and Latina women who were union members exceeded those of their nonunion counterparts by 26, and 30 percent, respectively.
The union difference is quite apparent when you look at the median weekly wages in predominantly female and consequently lesser paid professional occupations: Union preschool and kindergarten teachers earned a whopping 56.7% more than their non-union counterparts, while for elementary and middle school teachers, the union wage advantage was 34.6 per cent. In 2006, union librarians earned almost 29% more than their non-union counterparts, while union social workers and counselors earned 27 and 26.4 per cent more, respectively.
Higher union wages for women translate into a better standard of living for U. S. families, stronger tax bases for our communities, better schools and infrastructures, and healthier local economies.
And besides an increase in wages (and a narrowing of the wage gap), unions also improve women’s lives by providing greater access to employer- sponsored benefits. Forty- six million Americans — many of them employed women — lack health insurance. Unionized women and men are far more likely to have employer- provided health insurance (80 versus 49 per cent with health care benefits in private industry), and among the insured, union members receive more generous health benefits. Sixty-nine percent of union members have dental coverage and 54 percent have vision coverage, versus 43 and 26 percent, respectively, for nonunion workers. Union members also pay lower health deductibles and a smaller share of the costs for family coverage. They are also 14 percent more likely to have life insurance and 27 percent more likely to have disability insurance.
Retirement security is another key issue. Not only do union women receive better pay and therefore larger Social Security checks, but they are far more likely to receive a pension. Sixty-eight percent of union members have guaranteed (defined- benefit) pension plans, versus 14 percent of nonunion workers. In addition, employers of unionized workers contribute 28 percent more toward employee pensions. Union members also receive more vacation time and more total paid leave than their nonunion counterparts.
The quest for fairer wages and better benefits, along with more respect on the job, a means to balance the otherwise unchecked power of employers, a voice in improving the quality of the specialized services they provide and the products they produce, and more flexibility for work and family responsibilities have led increasing numbers of women to seek union representation. Women currently account for almost 44% of all union members.
Paul E. Almeida
Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO