Eat your veggies and join a union

Pub date June 26, 2012
WriterDick Meister
SectionBruce Blog

Mom and the AFL-CIO have an intriguing new message for America’s working people: “Eat Your Veggies  – and Join a Union.”

Many moms know, of course, that unionized workers are paid better than their non-union counterparts, have better benefits, better working conditions and stronger voices in what goes on at their workplaces, as well as in off-the-job political activities.

And now comes a Duke University study  –  “Unions – They Do a Body Good ” – which suggests, as the AFL-CIO notes, “that labor unions also are good for your health.” It would indeed be difficult to effectively argue with that conclusion, whether you are pro or anti-union.

 The Duke study was based on a sampling of more than 11,000 full-time union and non-union workers who answered questions about their general health. It showed that , whatever the reason, there are many more unionized workers who consider themselves healthy than there are non-union workers who say they’re healthy.

On the surface, the numbers might not seem significant – 85 percent of unionized workers said they were in good health compared with 82 percent of non-union workers. But that 3 percent gap between 82 and 85 percent represents 3.7 million workers – 3.7 million more healthy union members than healthy non-members.

But why so many more healthy union members? The study’s lead author, doctoral student Megan Reynolds, speculates – correctly I think – that the generally higher pay and benefits earned by union members “help hold off the anxiety that comes with trying to pay rent and feed a family on basement-level wages.”

She notes that  “decent employer-paid health insurance means you’re seeing the doctor when needed. Paid vacation means your body and soul are getting a rest now and then. Grievance procedures and increased job security help you breathe a bit easier.”

Reynolds and co-author David Brady, a Duke sociology professor, believe their study  clearly illustrates “that union membership is another factor – like age, education level and marital status – that affects a person’s health.”

The AFL-CIO, and hopefully your mom, agree. Veggies are indeed good for you, and so are unions. The likelihood of better health for union members should give union organizers a compelling new pitch to make in their attempts to sign up new members.

Better pay, better benefits, a stronger voice on the job and elsewhere – and better health. What more could a worker or a mother ask?

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes