Labor-management bargaining helped sustain employment levels throughout the COVID-19 pandemic while a hot labor market—driven by full employment policies—led to real wage growth for workers at the bottom half of the income distribution. However, the reluctance of employers to renegotiate the terms of compensation in existing collective bargaining agreements caused real wages for union workers to decline.
Both labor unions and a full-employment economy are essential for increasing worker power and promoting greater job security. As we anticipate a world with more frequent economic crises, we need policies that support the rebuilding of a strong labor movement and ensure labor unions are ready to bargain in a high-growth economy.
In “A New Era for Worker Power: Labor Wins during the Pandemic, and the Policies We Need to Sustain the Momentum,” Alí R. Bustamante shows that:
- Union-covered workers were able to recover pandemic-related employment losses in four months, while total employment levels did not return to pre-pandemic levels for two years;
- Labor-management bargaining limited job losses during the pandemic by bargaining the terms of furloughs and layoffs; and
- Workers’ experiences with the pandemic and the subsequent economic recovery suggest we need more policies supporting both labor organizing and full employment.