A business professor at Washington University has concluded that union dues are a good investment because the financial returns of union membership far outstrip the cost of dues.
Raymond L. Hilgert, a professor management and industrial relations at Washington University, studied financial statements by unions from 1983
He concluded that while union wages increased about 65 percent during the period, to $640 monthly on average from $388, union dues were less than that for most unions. The Consumer Price Index rose by 60 percent during that period.
The complaint registered by some that union dues typically have required their members over the years to pay unfair, excessive, or unwarranted dues would not appear to be supported by the data of this study." Hilgert concluded "...the data from this study and analysis may even give ample support to a broad conclusion that union dues are a good and perhaps even 'profitable' investment for a majority of union members."
Union wages remained about 34 percent higher than nonunion wages
during the period ($640 compared to $478 in 1997).
However, he notes, "This does not even take into account the fact that considerably higher percentages of union-represented employees long have had better health, pension and other benefits as compared to non-union employees , as well as enjoying the protections of a negotiated labor agreement including grievance and arbitration procedures."
Hilgert says that while higher-paid union workers have kept ahead of inflation, those on the lower end have fallen behind. Nonunion, low-wage workers have been hurt the most.
"This is another indication that union people have kept up better than nonunion workers." he said.
Union dues vary among industrial, craft and public sector unions, which are the fastest-growing group of union members. On average, where unions use a fixed structure, dues for industrial unions were $33 a month; for craft unions $31 a month; and for public unions, $23 a month. About 38 percent of industrial and craft unions have variable dues that are related to earnings.
The study examined dues reported by 242 labor union locals to the St. Louis office of the Office of Labor-Management Standards, U.S. Department of Labor.
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