Black Workers Central to National Union Battle

Public service workers are still standing up to union push backs.

By Jamilah King Mar 01, 2011

The battle over public employee unions isn’t just happening in Wisconsin. In states like Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, public employee unions are also under attack. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels even called union members "the privileged elite" during a speech in neighboring Ohio last week. GOP poster boy and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s made no qualms about his desire to attack unions, an approach Matt Bai studiously outlined in a recent New York Times Magazine profile. In response, workers in those states have protested in solidarity with those in Wisconsin. Evan McMorris-Santoro wrote at Talking Points Memo that as the battle over unions heats up in Ohio, protests in that state have reached their largest and loudest levels yet.

Last week, Kai Wright pointed to evidence that in states and localities where GOP officials are trying to use budget crunches to crack down on public employee unions, those workers are "uniquely black." That’s especially true in states outside of Wisconsin, where black workers make up a considerable number of union members.

The New York Times reported on Monday that a new poll shows a majority of people in the country support public sector unions — though many abstained from answering because they hadn’t heard enough about them. Jeffrey H. Keefe wrote an Economic Policy Institute briefing paper last year on the myth of the over-compensated public employee, and had this to say:

Comparisons controlling for education, experience, hours of work, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity and disability, reveal no significant overpayment but a slight undercompensation of public employees when compared to private employee compensation costs on a per hour basis. On average, full-time state and local employees are undercompensated by 3.7%, in comparison to otherwise similar private-sector workers. The public employee compensation penalty is smaller for local government employees (1.8%) than state government workers (7.6%).

According to data analyses done by EPI earlier this year, those numbers stand true in New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and, yes, Wisconsin.

And to to go back to the numbers Kai pointed to from UC Berkeley researcher Steven Pitts, here’s the national picture:

  • 14.5 percent of all public sector workers in the nation are black, making the sector second only to health and education services as the most heavily black workforce. In all other sectors, black workers hover around or below 10 percent. Again, if you took out states with disproportionate white populations or even focused on states with budget crises, I bet you’d see an even greater disparity.
  • More than one in five black workers are employed in public administration, as are 23.3 percent of black women in the workforce. That compares to just under 17 percent of all white workers.
  • Black women in the public sector make significantly less than everyone else. Their median wage is $15.50 an hour; the sector’s median wage overall is $18.38. White men make $21.24.