Unionized workers are more likely to assert their right to a safe and healthy workplace
Associate Professor Aaron Sojourner discusses why unionised workplaces are safer workplaces.
Unionized workers are more likely than their non-union peers to speak up about health and safety problems in the workplace, according to a just-published, peer-reviewed study I conducted with Jooyoung Yang, who was a Ph.D. student in applied economics at the time of the research.
To reach this conclusion, we examined over 70,000 unionization votes from 1985 to 2009 and focused on elections where the tally in favour or against was very small. This allowed us to zero in on the impact of unionization itself on worker behaviour. We then compared these workplaces with the number of inspections conducted by state or federal occupational health and safety enforcement agencies that resulted from an employee complaint. We found that unionized workplaces were 30% more likely to face an inspection for a health or safety violation.
The likely reasons why, in my view, are that unions can help organized workers learn about their rights, file complaints and provide greater protections against illegal retaliation by employers.
Why it matters
The health and safety of workers is always a concern, but the current pandemic makes the issue more important than ever, especially for essential workers in health care, retail and child care centers and schools. But beyond them, all workers – including those with typically safe office jobs – are at increased risk of catching the coronavirus.
The costs of providing sufficient protective gear or taking other steps to ensure worker safety can be high, which means some companies have at times resisted doing all they can to protect their employees. What’s more, they are trying to prevent their workers from learning about cases of coronavirus in their workplace and have been lobbying governments for immunity from any liability.
That means it’s even more vital that workers are able to raise their voices when they feel that their workplace is unsafe. Our research suggests belonging to a union can play a big role in ensuring those voices are heard.