Solidarity might mean netting an extra six figures. So says think tank, The Center for American Progress (CAP), which looked at newly released data on consumers’ personal finances from 2022. 

Unions have notched quite a winning streak recently, as United Auto Workers and Teamsters bargained for record-breaking deals this past year. Largely petitioning for higher salaries and benefits amidst a background of wage stagnation and ballooning CEO compensation, many workers went on strike during the summer, famously including WGA and SAG-AFTRA. What could have been a ripple of worker discontent became a wave as major strike activity hiked by 280% in 2023. Strikes have seemingly been effective in getting the needle moving for the worker when it comes to long-standing unions. 

So, when corporations don’t willingly pay up, it seems like unions can prod them to. And CAP’s new data found that workers’ organizing progress has shown up on an individual union member basis, especially helping to address the racial wealth gap and disparities between those with and without college education. Union households have 1.7 times more median wealth than nonunion ones— holding $338,482 versus $199,948, respectively. Milestones that have become increasingly difficult to achieve for the average worker seem more tenable for a union member, and when bolstered by a pension plan they’re even more likely to be able to retire and own their home, per CAP.

The report’s authors wager that union members are making more due to their collective ability to negotiate wages en masse, ensure more stability, and eliminate the sunken cost of job searching, and bargain with employers for better benefits. 

Unions become especially vital when it comes to addressing wage inequality based on an employees’ race and education. Being part of a union increased the median wealth for households of color by between 167% to 228%, a figure that dropped to just 37% for union and non-union white households. While Black non-union households hold median wealth of $61,540, their union peers have about $164,557. Due to the racial wealth gap, the difference is less apparent for white households that have a median non-union wealth of $289,425, and union member wealth of $397,700. The authors of the report explain that membership can help address structural inequalities in part because the “union wealth premium is much higher for households of color.” Unions can also help working-class households, or workers without a higher-level degree, get ahead as those with memberships have more median wealth than those without.

This type of progress has sent signals to workers across the nation. The wins of union members have inspired people within the private sector to get aboard the movement as white-collar jobs become less stable. While unions might be getting a second life in terms of public approval, not as many people are in unions as there are that approve of them. Even during the so-called “hot labor summer,” of strikes in 2023, union membership hit a record low

“Working-class people want their lives back,” UAW’s President Shawn Fain said this winter, as he spoke of a sweeping labor movement fueled by employee disenchantment and difficulty to pay their bills. “Workers are fed up with scraping to get by, paycheck by paycheck, while wealthy people like the Musks of the world just keep taking more and more at the expense of millions of workers.” It seems as if while still recovering from decades of being chipped away at, unions are more popular than ever. And those that can get that coveted protection stand to gain thousands.

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