Last weekend, you probably barbecued with friends, picnicked at Barton Springs or caught up on school work with the luxury of a three-day weekend. However, along with the minimum wage, retirement benefits and safe working conditions, you have one group to thank for it — labor unions.
Unions benefit all kinds of industries, from screenwriters to academics to education professionals and teachers. However, union membership has declined over the last half-century, and union participation hit a record low in 2018. This decrease has lowered both union and non-union wages, reduced voter turnout and can account for a fifth to a third of the increase in national income inequality.
It’s surprising, then, that public approval for labor unions is at 64%, the highest in 50 years. People support unions, but they aren’t participating in them. That needs to change.
As a university, UT has the unique opportunity to shape the next generation of laborers. Information is powerful, and when politicians, large companies and influential online figures spout anti-union rhetoric, students need resources to balance out the misinformation. As such, UT should provide more resources for graduating students looking to become unionized workers.
While union membership in Texas is lower than most of the country, UT graduates may still choose to go into a trade career or a unionized industry such as education, media or public service. After graduating in 2012, UT alumnus Dale Hanson decided to diverge from his government degree and join a trade.
“I decided the future was digital, and computers need electricity,” Hanson wrote in an email. “The (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) offers a cheap apprenticeship where you can earn while you learn.”
Hanson said he would absolutely recommend that students join unions if they can.
“My local offers (are) paid vacation time, free health insurance, 6% 401k contribution, three pensions and job security as an apprentice,” Hanson wrote. “Our dues are currently $40/month. So yes, I think it’s well worth it.”
Resources about unions would be valuable to not only students going into a trade profession but also students in fields with high union membership. Nearly all workers involved in film and television production are union members. Nearly 70% of teachers participate in unions or employee organizations. One in three workers in the public sector are unionized.
Radio-television-film sophomore Robby Goldman said most people in his major only know about Hollywood unions or guilds because of their prevalence in the film industry.
“I think there is a general awareness about guilds among most (radio-television-film) people because … of their importance in production, but also they all have awards shows during awards season in the beginning of the year that are precursors to the Oscars,” Goldman said.
However, he wasn’t aware of any resources from UT.
“I’m sure some faculty, like professors or advisors, have basic to advanced knowledge of these topics, but at my stage, there isn’t much we hear about unions,” Goldman said.
For students like myself, in industries without elaborate union award shows, UT’s current services may not be much help to get information we need.
To find cursory information about labor unions, the different career services offices would seem like a good place to look. However, neither the Education, Liberal Arts or Communication Career Services websites include direct links to union information among their career advice pages. When I asked Liberal Arts Career Services about their information, I was pointed to a database that had some articles, but it was difficult to find on my own and not provided by all colleges.
To provide those resources, UT colleges could include easily accessible, direct links to information about labor unions on their career advice pages. For more personal information, union representatives could be invited to table at career fairs. The information doesn’t have to be in support of unions, but students in unionized fields should have unbiased information about what they are, what they do and how to join one.
When union membership is low, it hurts all of us. When students talk about their future career plans, a labor union should be part of that conversation.
Springs is a government sophomore from Dallas.