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Disabled workers in unions earn higher salaries, report finds

Face lower pay gaps than their non-union counterparts


Union workers on average earn more than their non-union counterparts, government data has shown. But the benefits of being in a union are felt even more greatly by workers with disabilities, according to a recent report by the Center for American Progress.

Unionized workers with disabilities earned 30 percent more than disabled workers who do not belong to a union, CAP found, citing data from multiple studies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported earlier this year that overall, unionized workers earned 18 percent more than non-union employees, while CAP noted that non-disabled workers who belong to unions earned 15 percent more than their non-union counterparts.

Labor unions also help address the wage gap experienced by workers with disabilities. The number of Americans with disabilities in the workforce was more than 7.5 million in 2022, and on average, disabled workers earned 66 cents for every dollar earned by non-disabled employees, the report indicated.

While non-unionized workers with disabilities face a 13 percent wage gap when factors such as education and occupation are considered, disabled employees in a union experience a 3 percent pay disparity.

“Unions are helping close the gap between workers with disabilities and those without, all while ensuring workers with disabilities have the accommodations they need on the job,” said Aurelia Glass, a research associate for the public policy institute’s Inclusive Economy team who authored the report. “Union membership offers workers a route to the middle class, and disabled workers are no exception.”

Disabled workers also earned less on average because they were more likely to work part-time jobs – 29 percent worked a part-time schedule, compared to 16 percent of workers without disabilities. But that wasn’t the only contributor to the pay disparity: federal labor laws allow employers who have certifications to pay workers with a mental or a physical disability below the federal minimum wage. Workers with disabilities also risked having their Social Security Disability Insurance or Medicaid reduced if they earned more than the income limits for such benefits, the report stated.

Workers who are disabled and are union members also benefited from the fact that their unions can help them secure workplace accommodations, including making the workplace more accessible, CAP noted. 

“This is especially significant as millions of workers will experience chronic illnesses and disabilities in their lifetimes — 1 in 7 adults has experienced long COVID since 2020 — and becoming disabled, even temporarily, can place workers’ ability to support themselves and their families at risk if they do not have enough support from their employers,” the report stated. “Unions … play an important role in helping disabled members navigate the process of requesting the accommodations to which they are legally entitled.”

The report highlighted a contract reached last year by the UAW Local 2865, which represents graduate students at the University of California, that provides the workers with eight weeks of paid leave for serious health conditions.

But the rate of disabled workers who belong to unions is slightly lower than that of the general population. While 10.1 percent of workers across the country are unionized, among disabled workers, 9.4 percent were in a union, data from the BLS’s Current Population Survey showed. Workers with a disability also face an unemployment rate that is 7.6 percent, more than twice as high as the general population.


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