Recently, there has been an assault on worker rights in many states. Since 2010, there have been 16 states that have passed laws restricting public employees’ collective bargaining rights. Another five states have passed so-called “right-to-work” laws, which reduce worker wages. The 2018 Supreme Court decision in anus v. AFSCME is also expected to weaken public sector labor unions, resulting in a 4% pay cut for state and local government employees.
Minnesota’s labor movement has mitigated many of these challenges to worker rights. Governor Mark Dayton enacted policies that raised the minimum wage, strengthened labor standards, and boosted investments in public infrastructure and public education. As a result, unionization in Minnesota increased to 15% and the state added 46,000 union members last year.
That’s according to a new study, The State of the Unions 2018: A Profile of Unionization in Minnesota and in the United States. Conducted by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, the University of Illinois Project for Middle Class Renewal, and the University of Minnesota, the study assesses how Minnesota’s labor movement in faring today. It is the 3rd annual report of its kind on union members in Minnesota.
The study also finds that, despite partisan efforts to restrict worker organizing, unions continue to play a vital role in Minnesota’s economy and communities. The state has a higher unionization rate than the national average. Labor unions also boost earnings by 7% on average – but raise wages more for low-income workers.
- The union wage premium is highest for the median worker (9%).
- The union wage premium is particularly high for middle-class occupations, such as construction and extraction careers (20%).
- Unions increase the wages of People of Color by 12%.
In light of continued attacks on collective bargaining across the Midwest, Minnesota has reaped the benefits of unionization. Workers have higher purchasing power and the state has a strong middle class thanks to the labor movement. The Minnesota labor movement, however, will continue to face both short- and long-term challenges due to the political environment, the makeup of the United States Supreme Court, and broader economic trends. Labor’s response to these challenges will define its influence and effectiveness in the decades to come and will be critical to the long-run survival of Illinois’ middle class.