HARRISBURG, Pa. — The United States has found itself in yet another labor movement, which is best shown by striking writers and auto workers across the country.
“Whether it's at a Starbucks [or] whether it's in a more local situation, folks from other places are willing to stand up and support other workers," Local 668 President Steve Catanese said. "People are taking stronger actions on employers to show that they want their workers to be respected."
SEIU Local 668 is one of Pennsylvania's biggest unions for state workers, and it just negotiated new contracts for nearly 10,000 state employees.
Catanese says laborers gained leverage during the pandemic, with emphasis placed on essential workers who began to question their role in the workplace.
"[They said,] 'What can I do to have some control over my own situation?'" Catanese recalled. "The natural conclusion for a lot of folks seems to be coming to a union."
Many people were vocal in their support for workers during that time, and still continue to be behind them. Gallup polling shows that two in three Americans approve of labor unions, a number similar to labor movements in the 1960's.
Catanese also points out that today’s union workers tend to fare better than non-union workers.
“Regardless of race [and] gender orientation, a union worker is going to bring home more. The differences actually tend to be higher for marginalized folks," Catanese said. "But you're looking at differences in take-home pay, that can range 10 to 20% more on average."
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shares that same sentiment, showing that union workers on average bring home $187 more per week, or nearly $10,000 more each year.
Following an August ruling from the National Labor Relations Board that gave employees another path to unionization, Catanese says the ball is now in the worker’s court.
"Are they more empowered now than in the last four or five years? Absolutely. A ruling like that does it," Catanese expressed. "But, the general flavor and the general wave of union activism [also] gives workers more power."
However, despite strong support, participation in unions nationwide has not grown with the labor force.
According to data from the Economic Policy Institute, union membership peaked in 1985, when nearly 1 in 3 U.S. workers were under a union contract compared to 2022, where only around 1 in 10 U.S. workers were part of a union.