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“Unions did in fact build the middle class. And here’s what that did: that built the United States of America as we know it.” – Joe Biden

The “middle class” is defined as individuals and families earning 67 percent to 200 percent of the median income ($39,560 to $118,080 in 2016). However, this is subjective depending on where you are in the country. The middle class to a person in San Francisco—gauged as high as $400,000—is vastly different than what it is for a person in Peoria, Illinois. This also varies with the number of people in each family. But, for our purposes, we’re discussing household income earners

On a large scale, the middle class is shrinking. But, public-sector labor union membership is steadily on the rise as cities have grown and the demand for public services has expanded. Of course, this did – and does not – come easy, but it’s a fight worth fighting to ensure the middle class receives the benefits of labor unions.

Related: BobTalks “State Laws Weakening Union Membership”

Read below to see how unions and union building influence workers’ wages:

Increase workers’ wages

Unions help workplaces remain competitive. Journalist Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post stated that over the past 40 years, our nation has stuck to a “reverse Robin Hood” style of funneling wealth: taking wealth from the 99 percent to give to the one-percenters, attributing to the significant wage gaps we see today. When labor unions represent a large number of union workers in an industry, nonunion companies often raise their minimum wages to union level to discourage workers from joining a labor union. Unions provide this balance and hold both sides of the aisle accountable through a process called collective bargaining.

Only 60 years ago,  labor unions were critical in fighting for middle-class rights and fair wages. In fact, we owe many modern-day workplace benefits to union companies. Common labor union benefits that are now available to middle class workers include overtime and holiday pay, as well as the five-day workweek.

Heightened labor standards

Unions have raised workplace standards exponentially. Union workers are extremely well trained and competent. Per union requirements, they must have more training and safety certifications than nonunion workers. Union workers also have a significant amount of experience in their chosen craft, largely from on-the-job training and sustained apprenticeships. In addition, union workers adhere strictly to union policies, maintaining a drug-free workplace.

Union workers are aware that they need to EARN fair wages by completing a job correctly the first time and to the highest quality because that’s how they’re trained. They are also financially incentivized to continue working within their selected union trade. Union workers showcase terrific teamwork, treat each other with respect and maintain a pristine work environment.

Counted vote

How labor unions operate is directly impacted and controlled by the federal government. Unions  and union companies encourage modest income earners to vote and become more involved in their local communities. Strength is in numbers, and the stronger unions are, the more negotiating power they have in counteracting the self-interest of the one-percenters. Every union vote counts in contributing more wealth to the middle class and providing better lives for union workers.

Union health and retirement benefits

Since the first unions formed in the late 19th century, households have shifted from one to two working parents and prompted workplaces to create more “family-friendly” benefits packages that appeal more to the middle class. Paid sick and maternity/paternity leave, day care and even remote work options are now considered the norm. Moreover, better benefits will attract and retain more serious, dedicated journeymen and apprentices alike.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that union workers’ access to medical care benefits was 94 percent and access to life insurance was 85 percent. Contrastingly, nonunion workers’ access to medical care benefits was 66 percent, with access to life insurance benefits at 54 percent. These key retirement benefits are more attainable when you have a collective of impassioned workers with bargaining power.

Stick to the facts

One only needs to look at the facts and numbers to understand that more robust labor unions and a stronger middle class is a huge boost for the economy as a whole. Demand is restored by raising wages and accelerating hiring (and purchasing power). Equality is more attainable.

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