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Sloan Center News

Union Presence Bodes Poorly for Full-Time Employee Health Insurance Offerings

15 February 2010—“Unions are an effort to conquer the industrial jungle for democratic life.” – Walter Lippman (1914)

Union presence suggests overall fewer employee health insurance offerings, though increased pension benefits, according to a recently published analysis of the Sloan Center’s own National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development.

“The presence of unions at the workplace affects employee’s access to some benefits and human resource policies important to older workers,” notes author and Sloan Center Executive Director Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes.

Unionized workplaces were found to be more likely than nonunionized workplaces to offer temporary disability insurance to employees. Union presence also indicated a greater likelihood of health insurance being offered to families of part-time employees. The opposite was true with full-time employees, however. Unionized workplaces were less likely to offer health insurance to their employees or to the families of full-time employees compared to nonunionized workplaces.

Findings include:

  • Organizations without union presence were more likely to offer health insurance to all employees (46%) than those with a union presence (26%).
  • 58% of organizations without a union presence offer all of their full-time employees family health insurance, while only 36% of those organizations with a union presence offer this benefit to all of their employees.
  • Organizations with a union presence were more likely to offer guaranteed or defined pension benefits (27%) to all of their employees than organizations without a union presence (16%).
  • Workplaces with more positive attitudes towards older workers have a more limited scope of flexible work options.
  • Union presence indicated smaller scope of flexible work options available.

As employers grapple with the significance of an aging workforce, unions have opportunities to advocate for additional benefits and greater protections for older members. As previous Sloan Center studies have shown (for example The CitiSales Study of Older Workers: Employee Engagement, Job Quality, Health and Well-being, November 2008) supervisor support and benefits such as flexible work options are significant drivers of employee engagement.

Today, with organized labor struggling to remain relevant and influential, unions have chances to reaffirm their commitment to older members by negotiating meaningful member contracts over the coming decade. By championing programs designed to enhance older worker employment security, supportive work environments, and flexible work options unions can address older workers’ needs regarding postponed retirement and extended labor force participation. As advocacy organizations, unions can also reassert their unique role in highlighting employment issues among policymakers.

—Chad Minnich, Associate Director of Marketing & Communications, Sloan Center on Aging & Work. 

Read more on this particular analysis: Pitt-Catsouphes, M., Sano, J. & Matz-Costa, C. (2009). Union’s Responsiveness to the Aging of the Workforce. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 24 (1-2), p.125 - 146. The National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development was a 2006 survey of for-profit and nonprofit organizations that examined, among other things, organizational priorities in the private sector. Information was gathered from 578 organizations with 50 or more employees. The overall response rate was 39.9%.