Greatest Common Factors

What unions do—or used to—and how the bottom 80% of American families started sharing a smaller piece of national income


It’s about leverage.

You produce more money per hour than you get paid for—otherwise you wouldn’t be hired by a for-profit company.

But the amount you get isn’t set in stone. Your worth depends on your leverage in the market for labor time.

And that’s what unions do: provide leverage that allows labor to negotiate with a unified—not divided, at war with itself—voice.

Not surprisingly, when American workers were represented by unions at higher rates, they got a bigger piece of the national pie.

And as unionization has fallen, the bottom 80% of American families have begun sharing a smaller and smaller piece of the new wealth Americans workers create.