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Guest Opinion: Working women helped most by unions

Guest Opinion: Working women helped most by unions

Montana workers, on average, are among the lowest paid in the nation. But consider this; working men in Montana average $29,164 in annual earnings while working women in Montana average only $19,630. Throughout almost every stage of life, Montana women live in poverty in greater numbers than Montana men. Nationally, women earn 76 cents for every dollar a man makes for doing the same job. According to the Montana Department of Commerce, an astounding 30.9 percent of Montana women between the ages of 18-24 live in poverty. Twenty-three percent of Montana women between the ages of 25-34 live in poverty compared to approximately 13 percent of men living in poverty in the same age group.

The 2009 Shriver Report entitled “A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything” states, “Today, women earn 60 percent of the college degrees awarded each year and fully half of the Ph.D.s and the professional degrees. Almost 40 percent of working women hold managerial and other professional positions.” In Montana, this trend holds true. Women earn the majority of college degrees at almost every level. However, in Montana even women who have a bachelor’s degree or higher earn, on average, $11,687 a year less than men with the same level of education. Because women earn less when they work, they receive smaller pensions and Social Security checks. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, retired women earn only about three-quarters of the amount that retired men receive.

For the first time in U.S. history, more than half of all workers are women. Mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in almost two-thirds of American households. Susan B. Anthony once said, “Join the union girls … and together say ‘equal pay for equal work”. She couldn’t have been more accurate — then or now.

In the report Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers produced by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in December 2008, author John Schmitt said, “On average, unionization raised women’s wages by 11.2 percent — about $2.00 per hour — compared to non-union women with similar characteristics. Among women workers, those in unions were about 19 percent more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and about 25 percent more likely to have an employer-provided pension.” The report goes on to say, “For the average woman, joining a union has a much larger effect on her probability of having health insurance (18.8 percent increase) than finishing a four-year college degree would (8.4 percent increase, compared to a woman with similar characteristics who has only a high school diploma). Similarly, unionization raises the probability of a woman having a pension by 24.7 percent, compared to only a 13.1 percent increase for completing a four-year college degree (relative to a high school diploma).”

In 2007, women made up 45 percent of union members and that number continues to grow. Every day Montana’s working women are joining together into unions to affect change and taking leadership positions in those unions as well. The Montana State AFL-CIO, and our 38,000 union members, is dedicated to the protection and promotion of working women. We’ve come a long way but there is still a lot of work to do. This Labor Day the Montana labor movement honors these women, their battles and triumphs, and the significant role they play in their workplaces, their homes, and our communities.

Jim McGarvey of Helena is executive secretary of the Montana State AFL-CIO; his e-mail is jmcgarvey@mtaflcio.org

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