The start of 2020 brought many unforeseen problems to the American workforce; how have labor unions protected workers? What are labor unions though? A labor union is an organized group of workers, usually from a specific trade, industry, or company, unions fight to preserve rights of other workers. A union’s main duty is to ensure workers rights are maintained and the comfortability of workers is met. So how have they reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic, a rather uncomfortable time where many workers can see their rights being overlooked and ignored?
Coming out of 2019, the U.S. census found that there were 14,574,000 union members. this number might seem big and impressive but it is a drop from 2018’s 14,744,000 union members. Going into 2020 with a decrease in total members and facing a new and scary global pandemic puts unions in a tough spot. What was also brought alongside the pandemic was record high unemployment, data from April 2020 found unemployment reached a whopping 14.8%.
Antonio Gonzalez-Flores has been a part of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) local 2 for almost 15 years, and is also an union steward. When asked what his experience has been like with the union, he said “It’s really good when we can make people’s [lives] change or get benefits for them… really nice to see more benefits, more wages, more money [go] to them and it’s a really nice experience to be [a] union steward.” When asked how his union handled the pandemic, he said, “Well they, they move so fast when the pandemic started, they provide us sanitizer, hand sanitizer, masks, and they [made the company aware] to implement more safety stuff like face shields, designated areas to eat, things like that. The local union they move fast, they move fast to address the issue.” Antonio also said how he suggested the idea to use temperature guns to check to see if people have a high temperature, which is a symptom of the virus.
Out of the 9.6 million workers who were laid off due to the pandemic, the majority were non-union employees, which means union members made up a large portion of the now reduced total labor force. This is great news showing how powerful being a union member can be and how helpful it is for so many. Along with having their jobs protected during the pandemic, they have also fought for higher wages.
Antonio shared how he recently negotiated alongside other union representatives with their employer for higher wages. The union won a raise of $1.90 for every worker, even those not a part of the union. This demonstrates the dedication they have towards helping every worker, even if they aren’t union members. Higher wages are among the many thing unions have fought for to give workers during the pandemic, paid sick leave, job prevention, more health and safety measures, all fought for by unions for the American workforce.
Without labor unions millions of workers would have no protection during these unforeseen times. This includes every essential worker who had to work through the pandemic to support the country. The men and women that are in charge of farming your food are protected by the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), then your food is processed and sold in stores by workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), your car was made manufactured by members of UAW (United Auto Workers) etc. Union labor built America and continues to support the American workforce during the hard pandemic times.