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New Study: Unions Pay Off for OR Workers

May 16, 2008

Silverton, OR – Does it really pay to be a union member? A new five-year study says 'yes' and provides state-by-state figures to back up the claim. In Oregon, union membership means, on average, $1.67 more per hour for workers in jobs that typically are the lowest-paid. That amounts to about $3,500 more per year.

Mike Leachman, of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, says union workers also are more likely to have pension plans and employer-paid health insurance. He adds that the wage benefits in the study extend to workers at all income levels.

"Even after you control for factors of which industry they work in, and their races and genders and education levels, joining a union means higher wages and more benefits."

The national research includes data from almost 12,000 Oregon workers over the past five years. Leachman believes the state's economy could benefit from greater union involvement because unions help ensure that worker productivity is rewarded.

"We have, over the last generation, shifted toward an economy that, when it grows, tilts the benefits of that growth toward those at the top. But making it easier for workers to join unions is one of the best ways to help Oregon rebuild an economy of shared prosperity."

In middle-income jobs, the study showed a gap of almost 14 percent between union and non-union wages. At the high end of the wage scale, there was a six percent gap.

Union membership in Oregon has dropped to just over 14 percent of the work force, and Leachman says that's one reason wages in the state have stagnated.

Opponents of organized labor argue it does not guarantee better workers, and that not all companies can afford to pay higher union wages.

The study was carried out by the Center for Economic Policy and Research in Washington, D.C., and can be viewed online at www.cepr.net.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR