For Oregon workers at all rungs of the income ladder, especially those at the bottom, joining a union provides a leg up. That is the conclusion of a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) released today by the Oregon Center for Public Policy.
The study found that unionization increases the pay of a typical low-wage worker in Oregon by about 21 percent.
In dollar terms, an Oregon worker earning an hourly wage at or just above the state’s 2007 minimum wage of $7.80 could expect to gain $1.67 per hour by joining a union, according to CEPR. That translates into about $3,500 a year in additional income for a full-time worker.
The study also found wage boosts for middle- and higher-income workers in Oregon, though not as large in percentage terms as that enjoyed by the lowest-paid workers.
“Making it easier for workers to join unions is one of the best ways to help Oregon rebuild an economy of shared prosperity,” said Michael Leachman, policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy, who reviewed the CEPR study.
Over the past three decades, the wages of Oregonians have stagnated as union membership has steadily declined, according to Leachman. He said that from 1983 to 2007, union membership in Oregon fell from 22 percent of all workers to 14.3 percent.
Unionization’s effect on Oregon wages follows the national pattern, according to The Union Advantage for Low-Wage Workers study. In all states, including the District of Columbia, CEPR found that the union premium was substantially larger for low-wage workers than it was for middle- or high-wage workers.
Unionization brings benefits in addition to higher wages, according to Leachman. He said that unionized workers are more likely than non-unionized workers to have employer-provided health insurance, paid leave and pension plans.
“Removing barriers to unionization will help Oregon build good jobs for the future,” said Leachman.
He praised the 2007 Oregon Legislative Assembly for passing a “majority sign-up” law, which allows public sector workers to form a union when a majority of workers have signed cards saying they want to do so.
“A similar law covering private sector workers should be enacted by our leaders in Washington,” said Leachman, calling on Oregon’s congressional delegation to support legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act.
Oregon could further encourage unionization by prohibiting the use of public funds to campaign for or against unionization, protecting workers who choose not to attend closed-door, anti-union meetings held by their employers, and supporting a healthy public sector with privatization and contracting held to high standards for wages and benefits, according to Leachman.
“Healthy public sector unions help ensure that more workers benefit from the union advantage,” Leachman noted. “And when public dollars flow to private contractors providing public services, such as health care and janitorial services, they shouldn’t go to private entities that fight unionization or undermine wages.”
Previous studies have shown that joining a union boosts the wages of the average worker, but the CEPR study is one of the first to examine the impact of unionization on workers at the bottom of the pay scale on a state-by-state basis. The report analyzed data on 16- to 64-year-old workers from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey for the years 2003 through 2007, the most recent years available. The study controlled for factors of race, gender, age, industry and education.
The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a non-partisan research institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues. The Center’s goal is to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.