Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Do Unions Improve Workplace Safety?

Do unions make a discernible difference in preventing workplace injuries?

A majority of Americans believe so. According to a poll by the Employment Law Alliance, 63% of respondents listed workplace safety as a major factor driving support for unionization. 

Real-world data tells a different story. 

In 2018, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine released a study that analyzed seven years of data. It showed that unionized workers were actually more likely to suffer workplace injuries. 

And for those wondering if unionized workers’ injuries were less severe, the study also noted that there was “no significant difference in distribution of injury severity by union status.”

Unfortunately, this result is no outlier. 

Studies conducted in 1983, 2002, and 2012 also showed that unionized workers were at higher risk of workplace related injury or illness. Union workers themselves back this up: A 2015 Gallup survey found that unionized workers were less satisfied with their safety and workplace flexibility, compared to non-union workers. 

As a case study, consider a union whose members have good reason to be concerned about job safety: The United Steelworkers (USW).

A look at the United Steelworkers X (formerly Twitter) account shows plenty of tweets that attempt to sell people on the idea that they will be far safer in a union – specifically the USW. 

But a review of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations at United Steelworkers facilities in New York also revealed there is no shortage of issues at union facilities.

In 2019, reporting indicated that a Buffalo plant represented by the United Steelworkers was fined by OSHA for a string of violations that included endangering workers with unsafe conditions, steam explosions, and amputation hazards. 

Unfortunately for the United Steelworkers, problems are also occurring in a facility it represents in Eastern New York.

United Steelworkers members at the facility were exposed to death and serious injury, obstructed exit routes, and improper fire detection systems. The union even repeatedly failed to have the facility report illnesses and injuries that occurred in the workplace.

Actions speak louder than words. When it comes to claims about worker safety, it seems some unions aren’t living up to their promises.  


Categories: Center for Union FactsUnited Steelworkers