Photo by Pop Zebra on Unsplash

The reason that you had a day off Monday was because of labor unions. Lots of people in South Carolina, the state with the lowest unionization rate in the country, won’t want to admit that they were able to relax Monday because of unions. But, as they say, it is what it is.

As of last year, only 1.7% of South Carolina’s workers were unionized, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That translates to 34,000 union workers out of the 2 million people who work in South Carolina. What’s sad about those numbers is the precipitous drop from 59,000 union workers in the Palmetto State in 2020, a decline obviously brought on by the pandemic.

Interestingly, unions are more popular nationally now than in years. According to a new poll by Gallup, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That’s the highest percentage since 1965. Not surprisingly, Democrats have a 90% approval of unions, up 7 points since last year. But half of Republicans (47%) and two-thirds of independents (66%) also approve of unions.

With unions more popular than in a long time, it’s kind of confounding why membership is declining, down from 20% of workers across the nation two decades ago to 10% now. Union members tend to have higher pay, better benefits and greater job security than non-union peers, who generally don’t benefit from collective bargaining. But in right-to-work states like South Carolina that have demonized unions for generations, the focus isn’t on the positives, but on negatives, such as union dues, cases of corruption and slower advancement in union shops.

South Carolinians ought to give unions another look and a fair shake. Thanks to unions, workers have better wages, safer working conditions and an eight-hour workday. Unions also were leaders in efforts to stop child labor and implement health benefits, pensions and help for those injured on the job. Unions also were instrumental in other benefits we take for granted, such as overtime pay, Medicare, Social Security, and fair treatment for women and minority groups.

And also remember Labor Day — the day you celebrated this week. It wouldn’t have been a Monday holiday if unions didn’t push 140 years ago for a day to recognize the importance of all workers in making America strong and prosperous.

So when you think of unions these days, don’t automatically accept the establishment line that they’re no good. As a nation, we’re much better off because of labor unions.


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