At a time when women make up two-thirds of the low-wage workforce and the gender wage gap refuses to die, public sector unions are a beacon of hope for working women. As our new analysis, “Public Sector Unions Promote Economic Security and Equality for Women,” reveals, public sector unions provide much-needed economic security and equality for working women.

Women make up a majority of the public sector workforce, which includes nurses, first responders, teachers, and many other employees whose work is crucial to the health, safety, and prosperity of our communities. Women also make up a majority of union-represented public sector workers. We show that these union-represented women have higher wages and increased participation in employer-based health insurance plans, compared to their non-union-represented counterparts. These women also experience greater equality in wages and health benefits with their male counterparts.

Here are five fast facts on why public sector unions are crucial to working women—and the families that so many of them support:

  • Women represented by public sector unions are paid 24 percent more than their public sector counterparts who are not represented by unions ($987 v. $795);
  • The gender wage gap among union-represented public sector workers is about half that among their public sector counterparts who are not represented by unions; 

  • Women represented by public sector unions are more likely to have employer-based health insurance coverage than their public sector counterparts who are not represented by unions (78 percent v. 62 percent);
  • The gender gap in employer-based health insurance is one-third smaller among union-represented public sector workers than among their public sector counterparts who are not represented by unions.
  • Compared to non-union-represented public sector workers, wages and health-insurance participation are higher for both public sector union members and the nonmember workers they represent.

At a time when there are still so many barriers to women entering, continuing in, and advancing in the workplace—including pay discrimination, sexual harassment, pregnancy and caregiver discrimination, unpredictable work schedules, and exorbitant child care costs—the increased economic security and decreased gender inequality enjoyed by women represented by public sector unions offers a promising antidote.

Importantly, our analysis demonstrates that these benefits are felt by both public sector union members and public sector workers who are represented by a union, but are not members of a union. This fact is especially important because the ability of public sector unions to promote equality and economic security for women union members and nonmembers alike is presently at stake in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that will be heard by the Supreme Court this term. The case seeks to overturn a nearly 40-year-old Supreme Court precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that public sector collective bargaining agreements may include “fair share” provisions. In short—everyone can choose whether or not to join a union at work, but when the majority of people in a workplace vote to form a union, the union is required by law to represent everyone in a workplace, whether that employee is a union member or not. Fair share provisions require employees who are represented by a union, but choose not to become union members, to contribute to the cost of securing the benefits and protections the union provides: collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance processes. In the absence of such provisions, many individuals would decline to pay union dues while still seeking to take advantage of union services, thus weakening the ability of public sector unions to represent everyone in the workplace.

Public sector unions represent a promising path towards equality and economic security for working women. For the well-being of working women, their families, and their communities, the health of public sector unions must be protected.

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