Unions helped keep workers in jobs and paid during the pandemic

Unions helped keep workers in jobs and paid during the pandemic

In a new EPI technical paper, I review data on how union workers fared relative to their nonunion counterparts during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. The nationally representative data allow me to draw several important conclusions about what unions have been able to do for the workers they represent as the country confronts COVID-19.

First, unions helped maintain pay for workers. Specifically, union workers—union members and nonmembers who were covered by a collective bargaining contract—were more likely than nonunion workers to receive pay during periods when their workplaces were not open for business. Even after controlling for a wide range of worker characteristics, such as industry, occupation, education, age, gender, race and ethnicity, marital status, state of residence, and others, union workers were 10 percentage-points more likely than nonunion workers to have been paid by their employers for hours not worked due to pandemic-related closures or lost business during the pandemic period. 

Second, unions saved jobs. My estimates suggest job losses were 2,000 jobs per month lower for union members than nonunion members during the first six months of the pandemic when the economy was suffering most. Even as the economy started to recover over the subsequent 16 months, unions continued to preserve an average of 1,700 jobs per month. During the 22 months I analyzed in my paper, unions saved just over 40,000 jobs, relative to what happened to workers in nonunion establishments. 

Third, the union boost to wage levels remained. The union weekly earnings premium—the 7% by which the weekly earnings of union workers exceeded the earnings of comparable nonunion workers—held steady over the course of the pandemic. The pandemic hit all workers hard, but it did not reduce the relative position of union workers.

Additional findings and a complete discussion of the methodology used are available here.