Unions are critical to the entire American workforce. Whether or not a worker belongs to a union, they still benefit from what unions have achieved. Just as the federal holiday of Labor Day, enacted in 1894 with the support of organized labor, celebrates all workers.

Many workers take for granted the laws and regulations that protect them. Because of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1937, American workers have the security of a 40-hour workweek, overtime pay, minimum wage, equal pay for women, protection from age discrimination and child labor laws. Each and every one of these laws is a direct result of organized labor fighting for those rights for ALL workers, regardless of union membership.

What about union benefits not required by law? Unions negotiate legally binding contracts that include important provisions not covered by federal law such as pay for holidays, vacation and sick pay. Few Americans realize that federal law does not require employers to compensate for vacations, holidays and sick days.

A union contract also guarantees a worker's wages. You may know that there is a huge disparity in pay from one part of the nation to another. For example, in Florida the median wage for an electrician, according to the website O*NET, is $18.27. Yet the median wage for an electrician in Iowa is $21.83. Why the disparity? The main difference is that Iowa has a higher union density than Florida, forcing employers there to offer higher paying jobs with benefits. That in turn improves the lives of all workers in Iowa, not just union members.

Whether or not you belong to a union, the standards they set and the laws that they have fought for still protect you and ensure that you receive a fair days pay for a fair days work. But there is no substitute for the benefits and protections of a union contract. Without unions, individual workers have little hope of obtaining the high level of pay, benefits and protections afforded by a union contract.

By joining together, working women and men gain strength in numbers so they can have a voice in their working lives. Through the power of their unions, union members speak out for all working people and create better standards and a strong middle class across the country.

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