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Working Women Depend on Strong Unions

Medium: Working Women Depend on Strong Unions

By Stephanie Schriock

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31today — and anyone who cares about the rights of women and working families must pay close attention.

For generations now, unions have been a path to the middle class for women, increasing their income, guaranteeing access to health insurance they can afford, and ensuring economic stability for themselves and their loved ones.

Strong unions are essential for the economic health of working families — and they’re also essential for the economic security of communities all across the country.

The way it works is simple: In any given community, the more that families have access to family-sustaining jobs and even a basic level of economic security, the more everyone in the community benefits — whether or not they belong to a union.

I know this from personal experience, having grown up in the mining town of Butte, Montana.

Even though my parents (both Midwestern transplants to Montana) worked non-union jobs, they always made it clear to us growing up that the reason our middle-class family was able to find good-paying jobs and economic opportunity in Butte was because it was a union town.

In fact — even before I knew whether my parents were Republicans or Democrats — I knew they stood with the working people and that our family’s financial stability was bound up with theirs. When our neighbors made the tough decision to go out on strike, I knew where my family stood.

I’ve seen this with my own eyes: Communities really are stronger when unions are strong.

That’s not just a talking point.

It’s something working families everywhere know from personal experience.

Which is why — even as special interest-funded attacks have driven union membership down — the percentage of Americans with a favorable view of unions has gone up, to the highest level in the past 15 years, with an especially strong showing of support among young people.

Of course, economic inequality has also gone up as union membership has gone down, with severe repercussions for women, and particularly women of color.

Unions can help combat that inequality and enable women to negotiate a far more equitable return on their work. African American women, for example — when they are part of a union — make 32 percent more than nonunion African American women, while the median weekly earnings for Latina women in unions is 42.1 percent higher than their nonunion peers. And through their unions, women come much closer to shrinking the gender pay gap. While women overall still only make 80 cents compared to what non-Hispanic, white men make, women in unions on average earn 94 cents for every dollar earned by unionized working men.

At the end of the day, the people who suffer most when unions are under attack are the same people whose rights are being threatened by billionaires like the Koch Brothers. That’s by design.

The people who’ve spent millions of dollars in the movement that’s helped to bring Janus before the Supreme Court are the same people who’ve spent untold amounts attacking women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, the Affordable Care Act, and all of our civil rights — and in particular, our right to vote.

Their goal is to rig the system and the economy against working people to stop the vast majority of Americans from having a voice in our government.

The Janus case — which is the most dangerous attack we’ve seen on labor in decades — is yet another example of just how far they’re willing to go to weaken our rights and destroy our democracy.

Standing together as a united, progressive community is our best chance to stop them.

Stephanie Schriock
President, EMILY’s List