North Carolina's unionized workers earn better pay and benefits than non-union counterparts; the Employee Free Choice Act would help workers organize
North Carolina's low unionization rate partially explains the state's dismal standing in pay and benefits for working families, a new report says – but the federal Employee Free Choice Act is "a critical step in the right direction for North Carolina's workers."
"North Carolina has the lowest unionization rate in America, at just 3.5 percent," said Dr. Stephen Jackson, a policy analyst at the NC Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center and the report's author. "Because unions help workers obtain better pay and health benefits for their families, it's no surprise that this low rate traps many families in poverty."
But the Employee Free Choice Act would help unions organize more effectively by discouraging well-funded (and often illegal) attempts by employers to intimidate workers.
As Jackson writes in a special federal policy update of the Justice Center Legislative Bulletin, released this morning, "[n]ationwide in 2007 alone, there were 29,000 documented cases of intimidation or coercion by employers during secret ballot election campaigns. Compare that to the 42 cases by unions in the previous 70 years."
The Employee Free Choice Act would allow a majority of workers to express their desire to unionize through majority sign-up. It would also increase sanctions against illegal employer behavior, such as firing pro-union employees.
Across the country, union workers gain better wages than their non-union counterparts. This is true in North Carolina as well.
"Between 2003 and 2007," Jackson writes, "North Carolina unionized workers were paid more than their non-union peers at every point in the wage distribution except among the top 10 percent of wage earners, where union membership appeared to have no effect on wages either way."
Unions especially benefited low- and middle-income North Carolinians, where union members among the bottom half of workers earned an extra 11-14 percent per hour over their non-union counterparts.
North Carolina's median income just misses the bottom 10 American states, coming in 39th. Lack of widespread unionization, said Jackson is one reason why.
"The evidence is clear," said Jackson. "Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act will allow workers to collectively bargain more effectively by short-circuiting the bullying and often illegal anti-union activity used by employers. That will, in turn, help North Carolina's working families earn fair wages and benefits."
The report is available online at http://www.ncjustice.org/?q=node/415 .