Young Workers: Unions Offer High School Students a Path to Success

Reggie Davis, Chair, Young Workers’ Initiative Committee

Did you know the average cost of tuition at public 4-year institutions rose over 179% in the last 20 years? High college loan debt is one of many factors that contributes to 50% of college graduates moving home after graduating from college. During our committee’s 2021 round-table discussion with high school students, we learned that some students would appreciate knowing about other viable alternatives to college. However, they are often left to wonder, if not college, then what?

Since the late 20th century, higher education was too often viewed as the only way to guarantee financial and personal prosperity. Institutions of higher learning used this narrative to their advantage, all the while raising prices to levels that saddled graduates with significant debt for years after graduating.

By getting prospective young workers excited about joining a union, we ensure that the labor movement will be around for years to come.

Union jobs offer a strong alternative for students that do not want to go to college. They provide immediate earning potential, with many contracts including strong starting wages, guaranteed wage increases, opportunities for career advancement, retirement and health benefits, paid sick time, the right to fair and progressive discipline, job security, and even paid educational benefits. In addition to strong earnings potential, by forgoing college, students are essentially saving the equivalent of a mortgage payment in student loans.

The Young Workers Initiative Committee is raising awareness to let young people know that while there are many benefits to higher education, it is not the only path to success. This fall, committee members will visit local high schools and meet with graduating students to present the viability of a career in union-represented positions. Union favorability is at an all-time high, and by getting prospective young workers excited about joining a union, we ensure that the labor movement will be around for years to come. A recent study showed that over half of parents would prefer that their children had an alternative to college, and what better choice than becoming a member of a union?

We are not looking to dissuade any student with aspirations of continuing his or her education in college. However, we recognize that college may not be for everyone. We are looking to help those students who would like an alternative. In any case, we hope to make sure more high school students know about all the options available to them.

We want everyone to understand the benefits of being part of the labor movement. There are so many union positions, including skilled jobs, trades, occupations, and even careers associated with college and graduate degrees. We’re here to welcome anyone thinking about a career in the trades and who’s curious about what life as a union member may offer to them.

YWIC Member Frank Carino contributed to this column.