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4 Powerful Reasons Women are Embracing Unions at Record Rates

Once again women are spearheading union organizing efforts. This Women’s History Month, we examine the benefits a union can offer women. 


Recently featured in the Financial Times, Kasia Sznel, left, and Aleshandra Fernandes are members of New York Ironworkers Local 40. They completed 600 hours of classroom instruction and 4,000 hours of on-the-job training to ascend to union membership. -- Pascal Perich/FT

Women have been a driving force in the labor movement for centuries. From the fearless organizing efforts of Mother Jones, to the reforms spurred by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy, to the intrepid women joining New York City’s construction unions at record rates; history is replete with examples of women embracing and advancing labor unions. Given that women have often not been given a fair shake in the working world (to put it mildly), their embrace of unions comes as no surprise. Women have an outsized amount to gain from the protections offered by a union.


In the pandemic-inspired resurgence of labor organizing, history is repeating itself. The so-called ‘essential’ or ‘frontline’ workers— from baristas to nurses—  who bore the brunt of the pandemic, were disproportionately female. And now, women are once again leading the charge in organizing unions and fighting for fair pay and decent working conditions.


In recognition of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting some of the ways unions can help level the playing field and provide much needed protections and benefits for women in the workforce.

History is repeating itself. The so-called ‘essential’ or ‘frontline’ workers— from baristas to nurses—  who bore the brunt of the pandemic, were disproportionately female.


Despite physical abuse and public indifference, the women at the Triangle factory held to a strike that inspired other shirtwaist factory workers. -- Image excerpt from American Experience: “Triangle Fire.”

Shrinking the Gender-Wage Gap:

The transparency and equality provided by union contracts could be the key to closing the gender-wage gap. A woman in a union makes on average 23% more than one who is not. And the gender-wage gap between unionized women and men is 40% less than their non-union counterparts. This means hundreds of thousands of additional dollars in union women’s pockets during their careers.


Better Work Life Balance: 

Women are still far more likely to be the primary caregivers for children, elderly parents, and other family members. Unions negotiate for family-friendly policies, such as paid leave and flexible schedules, that can help women balance work and caregiving responsibilities. 


Protection From Sexual Harassment and Assault:

Unions are a powerful force for addressing sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Unions can provide support and legal representation for survivors and advocate for policies that prevent it from happening in the first place. Without a union, women who experience harassment and assault are left to fend for themselves and live in fear of retaliation if they speak up. 


Support For Working Mothers:

Women who are pregnant or have young children often face discrimination, are denied promotions or worse. Unions advocate for policies that support working mothers, such as paid leave, and accommodations for pregnant workers. 


Union busting on the part of greedy corporations, fat cat real estate developers, and other powerful interests not only weakens the middle class. It undermines the advancement of women.  If you want to end the gender-wage gap and help bring about a more equitable future for everyone— join a union. 


Mark Colangelo is a writer and blogger.

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