Policy Roundtable: Union leaders discuss importance of organizing

Unions help enforce worker protections, salary standards

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 3 – In the wake of a union resurgence – including widespread public support not seen in more than 50 years – union leaders from Allegheny County and across the state met with members of the PA House Democratic Policy Committee for a roundtable discussion today in Pittsburgh.  

“Unions are part of the fabric and history of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania,” said state Rep. Dan Miller, who co-hosted the roundtable discussion. “The history of our state can’t be written without recognizing the contributions unions have delivered for Pennsylvania workers – and Pennsylvania’s economy. Unions not only help put food on the tables for the families of workers, but they have also been the driving force behind innovation, setting prevailing fair wages and securing worker safety. Unions’ lasting legacy, however, continues to be their ability to provide a better way of life for millions of workers and their families.”

Miller and state Rep. Emily Kinkead co-hosted the Policy Committee roundtable at IBEW headquarters in Pittsburgh. Darrin Kelly, the president of the Allegheny/Fayette Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, opened the roundtable discussion with lawmakers.

The roundtable included:

A Gallup poll in August reported 71% of Americans approve of labor unions, the highest reported approval figure since 1965.

“The pandemic served as a wakeup call for many workers,” said Kinkead, who co-hosted the roundtable. “They saw employers demanding more work without any financial incentives, and this happened in some instances while zero safety precautions had been offered or even considered to protect the health of workers. I’m excited to report, however, that in the wake of these trying circumstances, workers are realizing their true bargaining power and the true benefits of organized labor.”

There are real reasons for concern, however, among labor leaders. Despite support, the percentage of U.S. workers in a union dropped to an all-time low of 10.1% in 2022 – the lowest figure since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics first began reporting the figure about 40 years ago.

“As union membership falls, income inequality grows,” Williamson said. “It’s bad for the economy and bad for everyone in the American workforce – except, of course, CEOs.”

House Democrats have targeted this inequality in bills to end price gouging as well as end gas gouging. House Democrats also offered a bill to address the need for fair open markets to help small businesses by providing the attorney general with the ability to investigate and prosecute anti-trust violations. The bills did not receive a vote in committee under the leadership of Harrisburg Republicans during the 2021-22 legislative session.

“Unions ensure that workers receive a fair wage,” Policy Committee Chairman Ryan Bizzarro said, “which is an invaluable asset during the current economic climate – where the divide between CEOs and rank-and-file workers has grown exponentially. Instead of investing in their workforce or increasing supply to help relieve pressure on the American consumer, companies use their record profits only for personal gain – tripling their share buybacks to help increase their future bonuses and line the pockets of their millionaire investors.”

More details about the Policy Committee can be found at https://pahouse.com/policy.