With a spotlight on health as the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to impact Americans, what role do unions play in the health of their members?
A 2017 study revealed a “10 percent increase in union density was associated with a 17 percent relative decrease in overdose/suicide mortality” and higher wages and access to health benefits and paid sick days positively impact the health of union members.
Unionized workers earn on average 11.2% more in wages than nonunionized peers and 94% of workers covered by a union contract have access to employer-sponsored health benefits, compared with just 68% of nonunion workers. In addition, 91% of unionized workers have access to paid sick days, compared with 73% of nonunion workers.
The Economic Policy Institute highlights a report that correlates “a badly broken system governing collective bargaining has eroded unions and worker power” with suffering during the pandemic and extreme economic inequality.
“Now, more than ever, we need strong labor laws to protect working people from the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Lynn Rhinehart, Economic Policy Institute Senior Fellow and one of the report’s authors. “We need policymakers to use their power to halt and reverse the four-decades-old trend of rising inequality, while also creating meaningful reforms that help workers organize unions.”
In the publication, “Care Without Coverage: Too Little, Too Late” from the Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Consequences of Uninsurance, the authors maintain that good insurance equals better health, making the work of unions to provide members with the best insurance benefits they can all the more important.
“The main findings of the report are that working-age Americans without health insurance are more likely to receive too little medical care and receive it too late; be sicker and die sooner; and receive poorer care when they are in the hospital, even for acute situations like a motor vehicle crash,” the report stated.
The long and continuing fight for better working conditions is also advantageous.
“Unions have historically been involved in creating healthy and safe workplaces, advocating regulations that are monitored and enforced by public health entities such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” an article in the American Journal of Public Health stated. “Autonomy and control over one’s life are associated with positive health outcomes, and social support in the work environment enhances psychological and physical health.”
The article notes the American Public Health Association is on record supporting the role of labor unions in promoting healthy working conditions, health and safety programs, health insurance, and democratic participation.
Contracts, the article authors argue, are a key component of improving the lives and the health of union members.
“One mechanism unions use to promote public health is the union contract,” the article states. “These are legally binding, durable over a designated time, and specific. They are durable because they cannot be unilaterally changed, and contracts that follow often build on the progress of previous negotiations. Even after a contract expires, federal labor law provides a process and momentum for the negotiation of a new one. We hypothesized that union contracts promote the health status of workers.”