Today, the White House, Department of Labor and Center for American Progress will convene a (politically) star-studded summit on working families here in Washington. In addition to business owners, regular working people, legislators, advocates and academics, the president, vice president, and first and second ladies are expected to attend.
Recognizing the challenges that so many working Americans face when trying to balance the demands of their careers and their families, the summit aims to bring national attention to ways that our workplaces could better support working families — especially working women, who bear some of the heaviest work-family burdens.
One of the most effective, yet often overlooked, paths to improve working families' chances of economic success is union membership. Newly released research from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) shows how much of a boost unions give to working women's pay, benefits and workplace flexibility.
For example, women in unions earn an average of $2.50 per hour (13 percent) more than their nonunion counterparts, all else being equal. In other words, being in a union can raise a woman's pay as much as a full year of college does. Unions also help move us closer to equal pay: A study by the National Women's Law Center determined that the gender pay gap for union workers is only half of what it is for those not in unions.
Union careers tend to come with better health and retirement benefits, too. The Center for Economic and Policy Research finds that women in unions are 36 percent more likely to have health insurance through their jobs — and a whopping 53 percent more likely to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.
Crucially, unions also support working Americans when they need time off to care for themselves or their families. Union workplaces are 16 percent more likely to allow medical leave and 21 percent more likely to offer paid sick leave. Companies with unionized employees are also 22 percent more likely to allow parental leave, 12 percent more likely to offer pregnancy leave, and 19 percent more likely to let their workers take time off to care for sick family members.
Education and skills can only get workers so far. It's a conundrum that women have surpassed men at school, yet have made little progress in catching up on pay. Many workers who do everything right — getting more education and skills — still find themselves with low wages and no benefits.
There are few other interventions known to improve the prospects for better pay, benefits and workplace flexibility as much as unions do. Anyone who cares about the well-being of women workers and working families should also care about unions.
Woo is the director of domestic policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.