When workers join together to defend and uplift each other, when we gather our collective strength, wisdom, and creativity to win workplace justice from the bosses, the benefits are practically limitless. Our lives are enriched, materially and meaningfully, by joining with our coworkers to exercise our right to democratically organize our workplace, where we spend so much of our waking lives with our coworkers and supervisors.
The many material and immaterial benefits of unions for workers have been exhaustively demonstrated in decades of labor research, including:
1. Higher wages
According to a survey of the past eight decades of labor data, unionized workers have consistently earned 10-20% more than their non-union counterparts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unionized workers in the transportation and warehousing sector earn an average of $270 more per week than non-unionized workers—$14,000 a year.
The benefits of union membership are so powerful that children of union workers enjoy greater economic mobility. When most workers are in unions, even nonunion workers earn higher wages, as employers attempt to keep up with industry standards and avoid worker unionization. Conversely, the capitalist assault on union membership in the United States over the past half century has also depressed wages of nonunion workers.
The Amazon Labor Union is demanding a $30/hr minimum wage for all Staten Island warehouse workers. We are worth it to the incredibly profitable operations of Amazon, and we require it to live with basic dignity, safety, and security in New York: $18.25 is not a "generous" wage, nor $20, nor $25. We must win the right to live as full human beings.
2. Better benefits
Union members are about five times more likely to have a defined-benefit pension than are non-union workers. Unionized workers have more access to paid sick leave, parental leave, a retirement plan, and health insurance (and pay less for it).
3. Health and safety
Unions won the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, and it has been union workers—through stewards, safety representatives, and rank-and-file solidarity—who are more likely to assert themselves to protect workers by reporting employer violations. Union solidarity and organization makes us safer workers. As a New York Times op-ed observes:
"It is not a coincidence that a vast majority of preventable accidents occur at nonunion work sites. Nonunion contractors make up 90 percent of the construction companies listed in OSHA’s 'Severe Violator Enforcement Program' for New York, a list of recalcitrant employers that have endangered workers with 'indifference to their occupational safety and health obligations through willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.'
Union workers are safer because they are better trained and know they will be protected if they refuse to work under dangerous conditions…Further, every union work site has a shop steward who serves as an advocate for workers with questions or concerns about their safety. If a contractor or foreperson tries to cut corners, the workers can, and will, refuse to put themselves in jeopardy."
The Amazon Labor Union began in defense of worker safety, after ALU President Chris Smalls was fired for organizing in protest of Amazon's dangerous COVID-19 policies. He was not the only one, as Amazon has punished worker-organizers across the country by a variety of methods, including police harassment, surveillance, and retaliatory firings. Amazon has been found to be a serial lawbreaker in its treatment of workers. Amazon continues to endanger workers with their pandemic policies, their disaster policies, their brutal physical demands—every decision they make is potentially lethal. Amazon is one of the most dangerous companies in the country, with an injury rate 80% higher than the rest of the industry. And their HR support systems are permanently broken, effectively by design. A union contract is essential to protect workers from Amazon's reckless indifference.
More than a feeling
Many of the most meaningful benefits of union membership cannot be easily quantified, including the spirit of solidarity and community that comes from joining together with coworkers in righteous struggle, the feeling of worker power in making just demands and winning results, and the sense of dignity that comes from standing up to the bosses and speaking out against unfairness and in defense of what is right. It's no wonder that union membership contributes significantly to life satisfaction.
The thrilling sense of solidarity is not limited to the bonds forged among coworkers within a union at one workplace, but extends outward to the mutual embrace among comrades of diverse unions and movements across the country and around the world.
Of course, the ALU and its members are joined in a common cause with the organizing Amazon workers in Chicago, with whom we won a national NLRB settlement, and the union campaigners in Bessemer, Alabama, who are pursuing their second election as we pursue our second petition. But we are also joined in common cause with the whole labor movement of union organizers struggling for worker justice—like the Starbucks workers we marched with on Black Friday and the Student Workers of Columbia we picketed with during their strike. As workers and as human beings, we all rise and fall together.
Worker dignity, worker power
Amazon is run by an Evil AI management system that treats workers like robots, makes working less safe, and is built to churn through workers at a predictable rate of 3% per week, 150% per year—with managers even hiring workers just to fire them in order to make their rate. Despite Amazon’s “Leadership Principle” encouraging workers to “Disagree and Commit,” the company has a history of illegal retaliation and harassment of workers who protest and organize, both in New York and across the country.
Amazon's inhuman algorithms will not treat workers with dignity as human beings until we assert our collective power over the workplace and the labor contract. Through the power of the labor union we compel the employer's recognition of our dignity, and we amplify our human voices as workers in the management of the workplace.
When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society. Civilization began to grow in the economic life of man, and a decent life with a sense of security and dignity became a reality rather than a distant dream."
—Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Illinois State AFL-CIO, October 7, 1965