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Millennials Bring New Hope to Besieged Unions

As a PhD student and graduate employee at the University of Connecticut, Cera Fisher was on her way to a successful career. But she and her colleagues were having a hard time making ends meet. Their stipends were swallowed up by fees; their healthcare was cut back; and they were required to teach more courses without extra pay. “We felt they [the administration] could change our conditions on a whim,” she recalls.

“Norma Rae Moment.” In what Fisher calls their “Norma Rae moment,” more than 2,100 research and teaching assistants organized with the UAW and won improved pay, healthcare, and fee policies.

  • They’re among tens of thousands of “millennials”—America’s largest living generation, aged 22 to 37, who account for three-quarters of unions’ membership gains.
  • Young people are joining together across the economy from academia and digital media to fast-food restaurants and retail outlets.
  • Millennials’ energy, ideas, and numbers are needed more than ever now that unions are besieged by a Supreme Court case to weaken public service employees, “right-to-work” laws that cost workers $6,109 a year, and the Trump administration’s attacks on job safety, overtime protections, retirement security, and other crucial issues.

Historic Support for Unions. Americans are supporting unions in record numbers, and young people are leading the way.

  • Sixty-one percent of all Americans hold favorable views of unions—the highest approval in a decade-and-a-half.
  • Among Americans under 30, unions’ approval ratings are soaring to 76 percent.

Security in an Uncertain Economy. Having come of age during the financial crisis and the recent recession, millennials are joining and organizing unions in order to gain strength and security in an uncertain economy. As we have previously reported, younger workers face numerous challenges, including:

  • The part-timing of jobs;
  • Stagnant wages;
  • Unpaid internships;
  • Contract work;
  • Shrinking healthcare coverage and vanishing pension plans; and
  • “Noncompete” clauses that make it more difficult to move to better jobs.