Section 1: Unionization and Inequality

a. Lawrence Mishel and Jessica Schieder, “As union membership has fallen, the top 10 percent have been getting a larger share of income,” Economic Policy Institute, Economic Snapshot, May 24, 2016,


Main finding:

The single largest factor suppressing wage growth for working people andsuppressing union membership over the last few decades has been the erosion of collective bargaining.

b. Oregon Center for Public Policy, “Stronger unions could reduce income inequality and strengthen Oregon’s economy,” Oregon Center For Public Policy, State of Working Oregon Series, April 29, 2016,

Inequality widens

c. Economic Policy Institute, “The benefits of collective bargaining, an antidote to wage decline and inequality,” Economic Policy Institute, Fact Sheet, April 14, 2015,

Union membership

d. Will Kimball and Lawrence Mishel, “Unions’ Decline and the Rise of the Top 10 Percent’s Share of Income,” Economic Policy Institute, Economic Snapshot, February 3, 2015,

Union membership and inequality

e. David Cooper and Lawrence Mishel, “The erosion of collective bargaining has widened the gap between productivity and pay,” Economic Policy Institute, Report, January 6, 2015,

compensation and collective bargaining

Section 2: Public Sector Unionization

a. Dan DiMaggio and Jonah Furman, “Teacher Strike Fever Spreads,” Labor Notes, March 23, 2018,

b. Lois, Weiner, “West Virginia Teachers Are Showing How Unions Can Win Power Even If They Lose Janus,” In These Times, February 24, 2018,

c. Jamie Partridge, “How Postal Workers removed the Staples,” The Bullet, E-Bulletin 1365, February 6, 2017,

d. Jeffrey H. Keefe, “Laws enabling public sector collective bargaining have not led to excessive public sector pay,” Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #409, October 16, 2015,

Section 3: Union Organizing Efforts

a. Sarah Jaffee, “In the Age of Trump and ‘Janus v. AFSCME,’ Labor Must Rethink Its Organizing Strategies: Interview with Jane McAlevey,” Truthout, March 28, 2018,

b. Harold Meyerson, “What Now for Unions?,” American Prospect, March 26, 2018,

c. Lane Windham, “#MeToo Solidarity,” Working-Class Perspectives, December 4, 2017,

d. Jane Slaughter, “Relieving Racial Resentment in Our Unions,” Labor Notes, November 10, 2017,

e. Chris Brooks and Gene Bruskin, “Labor’s Southern Strategy,” Dollars and Sense, October 23, 2017,

f. Jane McAlevey, “This Massachusetts Nurses’ Union Is Reviving the Strike,” The Nation, July 19, 2017,

g. Katherine V.W. Stone, “Unions in the Precarious Economy: How collective bargaining can help gig and on-demand workers,” American Prospect, Winter 2017,

h. Eileen Purcell, “IBEW 1245 launches public sector member-to-member education drive on the ‘union difference’,” AFL-CIO Blog, March 11, 2016,

i. Michelle Chen, “This Is How Bad the Sharing Economy Is for Workers, And this is how reformers and activists might win protections for Silicon Valley’s so-called ‘independent contractors,’” The Nation, September 14, 2015,

Section 4: The Union Difference

a. Colin Gordon, “The Legacy of Taft-Hartley,” Jacobin, December 2017,

Main findings:

We only have good union membership data — by state and by sector — from the early 1980s on, but the pattern is pretty clear. In the visualizations of this data (below), the states are strung like pearls along each year — RTW states, red; others blue. The “box-and-whisker” for each year traces the variability across the states: the center point of each box is the median state; the top and bottom of the box mark off the seventy-fifth and twenty-fifth percentiles (the “interquartile range”); the top and bottom whiskers reach out to values that are no more than 1.5 times the interquartile range; outliers in the data fall beyond the whiskers.

Union Density

With the exception of Nevada (an outlier due to historically strong union presence in the hotel and restaurant industry), the RTW states crowd the lower rungs of the state ranking — falling well below the national median in each year. The more modest membership levels are to be expected: RTW (which allows covered workers to ride free on the backs of dues-paying members) raises the costs of winning union elections, delivering benefits, and sustaining membership. . . .

Taft-Hartley, which has dampened labor organization in RTW states while making no measurable contribution to state prosperity or job growth, undermines both worker organization and full employment.“It’s aimed at your wages,” as the California Retail Clerks observed in 1948, “at your hours and working conditions, at your job security.”

This is evident in the figure below, a boxplot of wages in RTW and non-RTW states since the late 1970s. As with the earlier graphic of union density, we see wide variation across the states, with the RTW states dropping off the bottom of the scale. The wage gap between RTW states and the rest is perhaps most pronounced for men and women at the median, sixtieth, and seventieth wage percentiles (a wage range, in 2015 dollars, that runs from about $15 per hour to $30/hour).

wages by state

The wage measure in the graphic above is purely descriptive, making no allowance for other differences across the states. States with RTW laws, after all, are often deeply invested in other policies — fiscal austerity, underinvestment in education, meager social policies — that depress wages.

In order to isolate the effect of RTW laws, economists at the Economic Policy Institute (a 2011 study by Elise Gould and Heidi Sherholz, updated by Gould and Will Kimball in 2015) control for an array of individual (education and employment status) and state variables (cost of living, unemployment rate), and find that wages in RTW states are a little over 3 percent lower than in non-RTW states — a $1500 deficit for a typical full-time worker.

That wage penalty is compounded by the fact that, in the American context, much more than wages are at stake at the bargaining table. The compensation penalty, factoring in lower-rates of job-based health and retirement coverage, is even wider.

b. Elise Gould and Celine McNicholas, “Unions help narrow the gender wage gap,” Economic Policy Institute, Working Economics Blog, April 3, 2017,

Main finding:

Unions have been proven to provide women with higher wages and better benefits. As shown in the figure below, working women in unions are paid 94 cents, on average, for every dollar paid to unionized working men, compared to 78 cents on the dollar for non-union women as a share of non-union men’s dollar. Furthermore, hourly wages for women represented by unions are 23 percent higher than for nonunionized women. Unions provide a boost to women regardless of their race or ethnicity. The gender wage gap is significantly smaller among both white and black unionized workers than their non-union counterparts. Unionized workers are also more likely to have access to various kinds of paid leave, from paid sick days, vacations, and holidays to paid family and medical leave, enabling them to balance work and family obligations.

union difference

c. Cherrie Bucknor, “Black Workers, Unions, and Inequality,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, August 30, 2016,

Main finding:

This paper finds that Black union workers of today are very different from Black union workers of the past. In particular, Black union workers today are more likely to be female, older, have more years of formal education, be immigrants, and work in the public sector.

Black union workers also enjoy higher wages, and better access to health insurance and retirement benefits than their non-union peers. These benefits persist even after controlling for systematic differences between the union and non-union workforce. Specifically, Black union workers on average earn 16.4 percent higher wages than non-union Black workers. Black union workers are also 17.4 percentage points more likely than non-union Blacks to have employer-provided health insurance, and 18.3 percentage points more likely to have an employer-sponsored retirement plan.


d. Jake Rosenfeld, Patrick Denice, and Jennifer Laird, “Union decline lowers wages of nonunion workers, The overlooked reason why wages are stuck and inequality is growing,” Economic Policy Institute, Report, August 30, 2016,

Key findings:

For nonunion private-sector men, weekly wages would be an estimated 5 percent ($52) higher in 2013 if private-sector union density (the share of workers in similar industries and regions who are union members) remained at its 1979 level. For a year-round worker, this translates to an annual wage loss of $2,704. For the 40.2 million nonunion private-sector men the loss is equivalent to $2.1 billion fewer dollars in weekly paychecks, which represents an annual wage loss of $109

The effects of union decline on the wages of nonunion women are not as substantial because women were not as unionized as men were in 1979. Weekly wages would be approximately 2 to 3 percent higher if union density remained at its 1979 levels for all nonunion women; nonunion, non–college graduate women, and nonunion women with a high school diploma or less education. However the cumulate effects are still sizable. For 32.9 million full-time nonunion women working in the private sector, weekly pay would be a total of $461 million more (and roughly $24.0 billion more per year) in 2013 if unions had remained as strong as they were in 1979.

The degree of nonunion wage decline reflects how much unionization has declined since 1979 among private-sector men (by two-thirds, from 34 to 10 percent), among women (by more than one-half, from 16 to 6 percent), and especially among non–college degree men (by more than two-thirds, from 38 to 11 percent).


e. Worker stories from the successful April 2016 union organizing campaign at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center

Who We Are,

The Union Difference,

Section 5: The Right to Work Experience

a. Eric Dirnbach, “What’s the Likely Effect of the Janus Case? Let’s Look at the Numbers,” Portside, March 19, 2018,

b. Robin Urevich, “Judging Janus: The Money Machine Behind the Attacks on Labor,” Portside, November 20, 2017,

c. Bill Knight, “Iowa Workers Defy Attempt to Weaken Their Unions,” Pekin Times, November 14, 2017,

d. Desmoinesdem, “GOP Law Fails to Break Iowa’s Largest Public Sector Unions,” Bleeding Heartland, October 25, 2017, October 25, 2017,

e. Don McIntosh, “’Right to Work’ coming to the public sector,” Northwest Labor Press, May 16, 2017,

Main point:

In the 23 states that allow unions to charge fair share fees to represented non-members, the fees typically run about 85 percent of full union dues. And in those states, on average about 7 percent of represented workers pay fair share fees instead of full union dues.

The case that could overturn Abood is called Janus v AFSCME. The lead plaintiff is Mark Janus, an AFSCME-represented public employee in Illinois. The case was dismissed by the 7th District U.S. Court of Appeals in March, but the Supreme Court could agree to hear an appeal when it begins its next session this October. . . .

That means public sector unions have between six to 13 months before paying anything at all to the union becomes strictly a voluntary decision. Many public sector unions are getting ready by appealing to their fair share fee payers one-by-one to become full members.

They could look to Jim Falvey for tips. Falvey is president of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82, which represents Portland-area postal service letter carriers. U.S. Postal Service unions already operate in a “right-to-work” voluntary-dues environment. So do all other federal employee unions. Yet Branch 82 manages to get over 96 percent of union-represented workers to pay dues voluntarily. How? First, by insisting in contract negotiations that the employer give the union a chance to meet with new hires. During new employee orientation, Falvey gets time to deliver an energetic pitch about how important the union is to letter carriers. The few he fails convince are later set upon by their coworkers — who don’t want to see their union weakened by freeloaders. The union publishes the names of non-members so all members can see who’s not paying their share. Branch 82 even offers a bounty to a member who signs up a non-member.

“I don’t believe [right-to-work] is the death knell that everybody says it is,” Falvey says.

f. Steve Smith, “Rep. Steve King and the Racist Origins of So-Called Right to Work,” California Labor Federation, March 13, 2017,

g. Leah Fried, “Five Steps to Maintain Unity and Membership under Right to Work,” Labor Notes, February 1, 2017,

h. Ross Eisenbrey and Teresa Kroeger, “A tale of two states (and what it tells us about so-called “right-to-work” laws),” Economic Policy Institute, blog, January 12, 2017,

Main findings:

In 2011 and 2012 two states, New Hampshire and Indiana, debated the same bill: so-called “right-to-work” legislation, pushed by corporate lobbyists and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), designed to weaken unions financially and pave the way for greater corporate dominance of state politics. New Hampshire’s governor vetoed the bill in 2011. Indiana, by contrast, enacted it in 2012. It is instructive to compare the two states. By almost any measure, the economy of New Hampshire is stronger and its citizens are better off, on average, than the citizens of Indiana.

Now, [2017] New Hampshire’s legislature is once again debating a right-to-work bill. The bill’s sponsors make claims it will improve New Hampshire’s business climate and bring new jobs to the state, but there is no truth to this. Job growth in Indiana since it passed right-to-work has been no better than in New Hampshire.



i. Molly Beck, “Union membership in Wisconsin tumbles below national average,” Wisconsin State Journal, January 29, 2016,

j. Jeffrey Keefe, “Eliminating fair share fees and making public employment “right-to-work” would increase the pay penalty for working in state and local government,” Economic Policy Institute, Report, October 13, 2015,

Main findings:

State and local government employees earn less than similar private-sector workers, even though their education level (the most important predictor of earnings) is higher; however, they receive better health benefits and pensions. Previous research has found a public-sector compensation “penalty” of 2 percent to 11 percent, with state employees at the higher end of the penalty spectrum. (The penalty is how much less they earn in wages and benefits than private-sector workers with the same education, experience, etc.). Studies alleging that public employees are overcompensated do not control for skill levels and education.

Public-sector unions raise wages of public employees compared with similar nonunion public employees, which helps to narrow the private-public wage gap in those unionized sectors. The current public-employee union wage boost of 5 percent to 8 percent (Keefe 2013) is rather modest and considerably less than the boost that private-sector unions provide. Thus public employee unions, on average, do not raise wages to meet the wages paid to similar private-sector employees.

However, public-employee unions in full collective-bargaining states that permit union security (i.e., agency shop clauses) do raise total compensation to competitive market standards set by the private sector. In other words, only public employees in states with full collective bargaining make as much as their private-sector peers. In partial collective bargaining states, right-to-work states, and states that prohibit collective bargaining, public employees earn lower wages and compensation than comparable private sector employees, and this low compensation may impede state and local governments from recruiting and retaining highly skilled employees for their many professional and public safety occupations.

If the Supreme Court renders agency shop clauses unenforceable for public employees, it will shrink union membership because more people will try to gain services without paying for them (the “free-rider” problem). In RTW states in between 2000 and 2014, free-riders represented 20.3 percent of public-employee bargaining units (i.e., the public-sector unions were certified to represent them but they had decided not to join their workplace’s union nor to pay dues), while public-sector union density (the share of public-sector workers in a union) was only 17.4 percent. In states permitting agency-shop agreements (i.e., non-RTW states) only 6.8 percent of the bargaining units were nonunion members (but in this case not free-riders but agency-fee-payers paying fees equivalent to about 85 percent of dues) and union density was 49.6 percent . This near threefold gap in union density between RTW and non-RTW states underscores the importance of agency fees to the functioning of public employee unions and their ability to provide representation to their members.

If the court renders agency-shop clauses unenforceable for public employees, it will reduce public-employee compensation by increasing the pay penalty for working in state and local government. Using American Community Survey data, this report finds that the public-sector pay penalty is 1 percent in non-RTW states and 10 percent in RTW states, a net RTW compensation penalty of 9 percentage points.

k. Samantha Winslow, “Organizing Is the Key to Surviving Friedrichs,” Labor Notes, July 30, 2015,

l. Elise Gould and Will Kimball, “’Right-to-Work’ states still have lower wages,” Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper, #395, April 22, 2015,

Main findings:

Wages in RTW states are 3.1 percent lower than those in non-RTW states, after controlling for a full complement of individual demographic and socioeconomic factors as well as state macroeconomic indicators. This translates into RTW being associated with $1,558 lower annual wages for a typical full-time, full-year worker.

The relationship between RTW status and wages remains economically and statistically significant under alternative specifications of our econometric model.

Section 6: Anti-worker Threats and Actions 

aEd Pilkington, “Revealed: Secret rightwing strategy to discredit teacher strikes,” Guardian, April 12, 2018,

A nationwide network of right-wing think-tanks is launching a PR counteroffensive against the teachers’ strikes that are sweeping the country, circulating a “messaging guide” for anti-union activists that portrays the walkouts as harmful to low-income parents and their children.

The new right-wing strategy to discredit the strikes that have erupted in protest against cuts in education funding and poor teacher pay is contained in a three-page document obtained by the Guardian. Titled “How to talk about teacher strikes”, it provides a “dos and don’ts” manual for how to smear the strikers.

b. Lawrence Wittner, “The Trump Administration’s War on Workers,” Portside, February 19, 2018,

c. Marni von Wilpert, “States with joint-employer shield laws are protecting wealthy corporate franchisers at the expense of franchisees and workers,” Economic Policy Institute Fact Sheet, February 13, 2018,

d. Chris Brooks, “The Cure Worse than the Disease: Expelling Freeloaders in an Open-Shop State,” New Labor Forum, August 24, 2017,

e. Celine McNicholas and Marni von Wilpert, “The joint employer standard and the National Labor Relations Board, What is at stake for workers?”  Economic Policy Institute, May 31, 2017,

f. Heidi Shierholz and Celine McNicholas, “Understanding the anti-regulation agenda,” Economic Policy Institute, Fact Sheet, April 11, 2017,

g. Hannah Levintova,In One Executive Order, Trump Revoked Years of Workplace Protections for Women,” Mother Jones, April 5, 2017,

h. Penny Lewis, “Viewpoint: What’s Coming for Unions under President Trump,” Labor Notes, January 19, 2017,

i. Mario Vanquez, “Labor Law Faces Dire New Threats From Supreme Court Under Trump,” Truthout, December 3, 2016,

Section 7: Anti-union Arguments 

a. Steve Buckstein and Kathryn Hickok, “My View: Time to stop forcing union membership,” Portland Tribune, August 24, 2017,

b. Oregonian Editorial Board, “Oregon ‘right to work’ initiative is suddenly very relevant: Editorial Agenda 2016,” The Oregonian, April 1, 2016,

Section 8: General References

a.  Josh Bivens, Lora Engdahl, Elise Gould, Teresa Kroeger, Celine McNicholas, Lawrence Mishel, Zane Mokhiber, Heidi Shierholz, Marni von Wilpert, Ben Zipperer, and Valerie Wilson, “How today’s unions help working people, Giving workers the power to improve their jobs and unrig the economy,” Report, Economic Policy Institute, August 24, 2017,

bColin Gordon, The Union Difference: Labor Policy and American Inequality,

c. Why Unions Matter, Keep Oregon Working, June 2016,



d. Work, Money and Power: Unions in the 21st Century, third edition 2013, The UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education,

e. Jonathan Rosenblum, Beyond $15, Immigrant Workers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Movement, Beacon Press, 2017.

f. Michael K. Honey (editor), All Labor Has Dignity (Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. on Labor Rights and Economic Justice), Beacon Press, 2012.