On Friday, a group of Congressional staffers announced that they are organizing a union for employees that work for members and committees on Capitol Hill. This push for unionization comes on the heels of the rise of an Instagram account, Dear White Staffers, that exposes the extremely low pay and poor working conditions that junior employees experience in legislative chambers. Every worker deserves to be paid fairly and treated well, but it’s particularly disturbing to see that happen when those workers are employed by elected officials who claim to care about working people around the country.
We wholeheartedly support these staffers’ efforts to unionize, just like we do in workers in industries all across the nation. Our economy and country as a whole always do better when workers do better. And workers tend to do better when they are unionized. Organized labor has been under attack for decades by wealthy elites who want total control over the workforce, and our economy has suffered as a result. If we want a stable, prosperous country, we need organized labor.
To understand this, just look at the difference between how UPS and Fedex have fared during the pandemic. UPS has a highly paid, unionized workforce and has reported strong numbers over the last two years. It beat earnings expectations last quarter, has had an on-time performance of about 95%, and has not experienced any labor disruptions. In contrast, Fedex, whose workers are nonunion independent contractors and receive less pay than their UPS counterparts, has not done well over the course of the pandemic. On-time deliveries are at only 85%, and profits have been eaten up by the roughly $450 million in extra costs that the company has incurred because of labor shortages.
It is no surprise that economic inequality has risen in America as union membership has declined. In the 50’s and 60’s, when inequality was at its lowest point in American history, roughly 1/3 of the workforce was unionized. Today, a measly 10.3% of workers are in unions and inequality is higher than ever. This has left the American workforce to fall further and further behind, because when workers band together and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions, they unsurprisingly manage to get a bigger and fairer piece of the economic pie.
Workers all around the country are waking up to this reality. Support for labor unions is at a 50-year high, with one poll finding that no less than 68% of Americans approve of unions. And, of course, workers in a variety of industries are coming together and taking first steps in forming unions themselves. It’s not just Capitol Hill: workers at big-box companies like Starbucks and Amazon are also making splashes in the headlines because of their fights to form unions.
Companies both big and small would do well to welcome unionization efforts. It’s not just about ethics and being kind to low-wage workers. It’s also just better business sense. Better-paid employees are more productive, more loyal and committed to their company’s success, and stay on the job longer. Paying workers more might hurt companies’ bottom lines in the short term, but they are far more profitable in the long-term and far better able to weather storms like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the window of opportunity to do so potentially closes with the 2022 midterms, it is imperative that Democrats pass legislation that protects unions nationwide. And while they’re at it, they should allow their own staffers to collectively bargain too.