Only 10.5 percent of American workers are unionized, including less than seven percent of those who work in the private sector. Yet according to polls, nearly half of nonunion workers (58 million individuals) say they would vote to join a union if they could. The need is obvious: workers’ share of the national income (pay and benefits) is at its lowest level since the 1940s, and average inflation-adjusted hourly pay has been flat since the early 1970s. And public approval of unions is surprisingly high: 62 percent. Unions have a mixed track record, with noble successes and sordid failures. Their future is hard to predict, as they wrestle with whether to reinvent themselves by focusing on broad workers’ rights campaigns, which would benefit many workers who might never join a union, such as the Fight for $15 push to raise minimum wages. Greenhouse blends solid historical research with the intimate knowledge he has gleaned from 20 years of reporting on organized labor to tell an often deeply moving story that has much to say about whether the United States can address the dire inequality that is tearing apart the fabric of American democracy.
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