February 04, 2022

Illinois-Missouri pay gap underscores the union difference

Illinois and Missouri share a 361-mile border – comprised entirely of the Mississippi River. On the eastern side, in Illinois, state workers have a strong union voice—AFSCME Council 31—and robust collective bargaining rights. On the western side, in Missouri, their bargaining rights are restricted and unions weakened. And that has led to a stark illustration of the union difference.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that “at least 200 Missouri residents cross the Mississippi River each day to work in Illinois government facilities where they can make a significantly larger paycheck for doing almost exactly the same job.”

A 2016 study released by former Gov. Jay Nixon showed that Missouri state workers earn an average of $39,682. In Illinois? The average salary is $65,343, according to the newspaper.  

Each worker (and even one manager) interviewed by the Post-Dispatch pointed to the same cause—the union difference.

Hursel King said he was earning $26,000 a year as a correctional officer in Missouri until 2011, when he was hired for a similar post in Illinois that paid $45,000. King, treasurer of AFSCME Local 1175, said the pay difference is the key reason why he commutes 45 miles from his Missouri home to Illinois.

“Obviously the union makes a big difference,” King told the Post-Dispatch.

Watch this video, which crystallizes King’s experience and the difference a strong union makes.

Scott Lankford, a Missouri resident and a clerical worker with the Illinois Department of Human Services, said that on top of the better pay, “he can count on regular salary increases in Illinois based on the union contract,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Even the acting director of the Missouri Department of Social Services, Robert Knodell, “attributed the higher pay rates in Illinois to the state’s strong labor union,” the paper said.

The pay gap between Missouri workers—who lack a voice on the job—and their Illinois counterparts—who have a voice—underscores what AFSCME members have long known: Life in a union is just better.

Not only do union members earn more, they have better health care coverage and higher retirement security compared to nonunion workers. By standing together, they can negotiate for better wages and benefits. Workers also gain respect for the work they do and are better protected on the job by being in a union. And that’s just scratching the surface.

As we commemorate Black History Month, let’s remember that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted workers to join labor unions. He once said, “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.” Where did King make that observation? Springfield, Illinois.

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