Labor Unions: A Public Health Institution


Beth Malinowski, Laura Stock, Meredith Minkler


asthma, community health, culinary workers, health, hotel workers, hypertension control, labor unions, Las Vegas, organized labor, participatory action research, San Francisco, tobacco cessation, unions


American Public Health Association

Year Published:


Policy Summary

The authors argue that public health work needs to greatly increase inclusion of organized labor groups as active participants in current and future public health research and work. Labor unions have a sterotype of being “a thing of the past,” but the authors strongly suggest their importance for the future. Public health research has demonstrated a positive association between union membership and self-rated health (due to increased income, in addition to other factors such as safe workplace, job security, and health care access). Three reviews of the role of unions in workplace occured on the following topics: workplace smoking cessation, hypertension outcomes, and asthma. Additionally, the participatory action research method that occured with union hotel workers in San Francisco and cooks in Las Vegas demonstrated how effective that approach can be at providing unions credible evidence to bargain with for better conditions. Involving unions in public health research does involve some challenges (political, disagreement within members on issue, union hierarchy), however the authors encourage public health researchers to engage with unions in future research as studying and improving community health must incorporate the workplace.

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