The union difference: Greatest wealth gains are for Black and Hispanic union households

We’ve said it before: Life is better in a union

Workers who belong to unions make more money than their nonunion counterparts. They have better health care insurance and retirement plans, more job security and safer working conditions. They’re happier.

Being in a union comes with an added bonus for Black and Hispanic workers, according to a new analysis of Federal Reserve data done by the Center for American Progress (CAP).  

While unions increase wealth for all households, regardless of race or ethnicity, they provide larger increases for Black and Hispanic households when compared to their White counterparts.

According to CAP:

  • For Black households with a union member, the median wealth is more than three times that of non-union Black households. 
  • For Hispanic households with a union member, the median wealth is more than five times that of nonunion Hispanic counterparts.  
  • For White households with a union member, the median wealth is nearly two times that of nonunion White households. 

Why the added benefits? Because Black and Hispanic households start out more disadvantaged. In the words of the CAP analysts, “Because these households start from a lower base wealth, a larger union wealth premium compared with white households helps narrow the racial wealth gap.”

By narrowing this gap, unions help decrease inequality and benefit the larger economy. As the authors point out, “The median white family has about 10 times the wealth of the median Black family and more than eight times the wealth of the median Hispanic family.”

The added wealth comes in especially handy during times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

William Orange, who works in the nutrition department at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, told USA Today recently that being part of a strong union has made a huge difference in his and his family’s life. Orange, a member of Local 1363 (AFSCME Florida), used to work in warehouses with no union representation. Now he has a guaranteed 40-hour work week and paid sick leave.

“It allows me to make a decent salary, and … if I get sick I can get paid and it doesn’t impact my financial situation with my family,” he said. “Being in the union gives you a sense of security.”

Fellow AFSCME members Tarsha Laster and Charlotte Neal echoed Orange’s sentiments in interviews with USA Today.

Laster, who has gained higher wages and good health care by joining AFSCME Florida, said she followed her mother’s advice to join a union as soon as she started working at Jackson Memorial 15 years ago.

"It is a safety net,'' she explained.

Neal, a who runs a child care center in Sacramento, California, is a member of Child Care Providers United. Through CCPU, tens of thousands of California child care workers secured a contract with the state that will raise their pay by an average of 15% beginning this January.

"It takes away a lot of that stress of having to scrape … to juggle to try to balance everything,’’ said Neal, who sometimes had to limit what she and her husband ate to make sure the kids in her care had enough food.

CCPU is also fighting to get members benefits like health insurance and retirement.

“I’ve given many years of service to the state of California ... so it’s something that I’ve earned,’’ Neal said. “With the union, we’re organizing and we’re fighting for providers.’’

The latest CAP analysis is one more reason Congress should make it easier, not harder, for workers to join together in strong unions. A good place to start would be the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would set a minimum nationwide standard of collective bargaining rights that all states must provide to state and local workers.

The bill, which AFSCME strongly supports, will likely be introduced in Congress next week.