New data from the Treasury Department shows the myriad benefits of unionization while new polling shows a majority of Americans support union membership. Pictured: Then-Sec. Marty Walsh stands with construction workers including Chicago Local 134 members.
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Labor via Flickr.

The Biden administration has come out with new data supporting a long-held view: that unions are good for the middle class, and what’s good for the middle class is good for the American economy. And, according to new polling, most Americans agree.

The data comes from a report by the Treasury Department, released Aug. 28, that looks at how unionization benefits middle-class workers, and not just those who are in a union. A product of the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, the report finds that unions not only raise wages and benefits for members, but they also have myriad spillover effects that improve nonunion workplaces and communities as a whole.

“It’s great to see public support so high and the Biden administration backing up what we’ve been saying all along —that unions add value, not just to a member’s paycheck, but to the communities we live in,” IBEW International President Kenneth W. Cooper said. “As the president has said many times, the middle class built America, and unions built the middle class. Now we have even more data to prove it.”

According to the department’s findings, unions raise the wages of their members by 10% to 15%, while also improving benefits and workplace procedures like grievance policies and predictable scheduling. Those improvements contribute to greater financial stability and worker well-being. And since those improvements set higher standards in the labor market, nonunion wages and benefits also tend to improve, which in turn creates even more financial stability in a community.

That stability then spreads into other areas, like housing and investments in education. The report cited research that found that higher incomes are associated with higher rates of homeownership, a greater probability that children will start and graduate from college, and improved health outcomes.

The report also found that by encouraging egalitarian wage practices, unions help reduce racial and gender wage gaps.

“Income inequality often feeds back into inequality of opportunity, which impedes growth if disadvantaged people cannot access the resources necessary to acquire job skills or start businesses,” the report stated.

Beyond wages and benefits, the Treasury Department also found that union members vote more than their nonunion counterparts and are more likely to donate to charity, attend community meetings, participate in neighborhood projects and volunteer.

The paper concludes with a list of legislative priorities, including the Protecting the Right to Organize, or PRO, Act, which would weaken right-to-work laws and level the playing field when it comes to union organizing.

“This report is the administration’s latest action to strengthen the important role of labor unions in our economy, and it is the Treasury Department’s first major effort to lay out the rationale for why we think this is so important,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a news release.

The report came out at the same time as new polling showing high approval for unions across major demographic groups. According to Gallup’s annual Work and Education poll, 67% of Americans approve of labor unions today, which is down slightly from 71% a year ago but also marks the fifth straight year the reading has exceeded its long-term average of 62%. The poll also found that a record-high 61% say unions help rather than hurt the U.S. economy, while 57% say unions mostly help the companies where workers are unionized.

“U.S. adults are more likely now than at any time in the past quarter-century to believe labor unions will become stronger,” the report found. “Today’s striking workers may have a stronger hand in their negotiations than they would have had in the past given today’s elevated public support for unions — the public relations risks appear higher for employers today.”

An AFL-CIO poll of registered voters similarly found majority support for strikes and unions, including among Republicans and independents.

Voters under 30 showed overwhelming support for coming together in a union, with 88% approving, and 90% support striking workers.