Teamster Center Services
September 3, 2012
Andy Johnson, Fund Administrator
The Labor Day holiday is here again. That annual event when we stop to recognize our nation’s workers: the builders of our cars, buildings, highways and cities. The people who go to work every day to play their part in the nation’s economy while pursuing the American Dream. And no company, no legislation and no dot.com wunderkind has done more for American workers than labor unions.
Labor unions have greatly improved the lives of both unionized and non-unionized workers. While union workers in the United States are 28.2 percent more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and are 53.9 percent more likely to have employer-provided pensions compared to non-unionized workers, all workers have greatly benefited from the trails blazed by unions over the past century. Paid vacation and sick time, work safety rules and limits on work hours are all benefits enjoyed by the American workforce because of the standards set by unions.
However, the many great achievements of the past are now being threatened by our society’s rapidly declining health status. Over the past few decades our nation has become increasingly obese, inactive and poorly fed. The results of this trend are an enormous rise in medical costs that, if unchecked, will swallow up good wages, benefits and pensions within our lifetimes.
The statistics on obesity are grim; no state has met the nation’s Healthy People 2010 goal to lower obesity prevalence. In 2010, the number of states with an obesity prevalence of 30% or more increased to 12. As a point of comparison, in 2000, no state had an obesity prevalence of 30% or more. This trend has been followed step-by-step with increases in obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer. The cost to address these issues is staggering; in New York State alone, insurers spent about $11.1 billion in 2006 just to address obesity-related illnesses.
The time for union leaders to come together and address the issue of worker health and wellness is now. For over a decade, corporate America has found tremendous cost-savings by implementing wellness interventions — but unions continue to lag far behind when it comes to motivating employees to make healthy choices, reducing the incidence of smoking, and identifying and addressing workers with chronic illness. If unions are a real brotherhood (and sisterhood) they must step up, be their brother’s keeper and move their members toward wellness.