Study finds W.Va. union workers earn higher wages


While the majority of service workersin West Virginia have seen their wages decline or stagnate over thelast couple of decades, a new study shows that belonging to a unioncould boost pay for the state's service-sector employees.

Between 2004 and 2007, the median wagepaid unionized service workers in West Virginia was $18.44 an hour,compared to $12.47 an hour paid to non-union service workers, according to "Unions and Upward Mobility for Service-SectorWorkers," a study released jointly by the D.C.-based Center forEconomic and Policy Research and the West Virginia Center on Budgetand Policy.

Thirty years ago, West Virginia had oneof the nation's highest percentages of union workers. While the statestill has one of the highest unionization rates in the South, aregion notorious for its anti-union policies, the state has seen a drasticdecline in union numbers. In recent years, about 77 percent of WestVirginians held service-sector jobs, but only 13.1 percent of themwere unionized.

On top of higher wages, unionizationalso increases the likelihood that service workers, especially thosein low-wage occupations, will have health insurance and retirementbenefits in West Virginia. Service workers in low-paying jobs whowere union members were 26 percent more likely to haveemployer-sponsored health insurance and 23 percent more likely tohave employer-funded pension plans, according to the study.

The impact of unions on service-sectoremployees in low-wage occupations was even more significant. Forworkers in the 15 lowest-paying occupations, unionization raisedwages by 15.5 percent. The likelihood of having health insuranceincreased by about 26 percentage points and the likelihood of havingan employer sponsored pension increased by about 23 percentagepoints.

Over the past 30 years, the U.S.economy has shifted significantly from manufacturing toservice-sector jobs, contributing to a decline in nationalunionization rates. This decline in unionization has lead to slippingworkforce power and fewer benefits for employees. Last year unionmembership rose to 12.4 percent, an increase from 2007's 12.1percent, yet still a far drop from the 20.1 percent of 1983.

As manufacturing employment hasdeclined, the service sector has grown to account for more thanthree-fourths of all jobs in the United States. The findings in thereport suggest that better protection of workers' rightto unionize would have a substantial positive impact on the pay andbenefits of service-sector workers, according to the study.