A more powerful union

By Michelle Chen Apr 01, 2009

On Tuesday, actors from the West Wing appeared on Capitol Hill to rally for the Employee Free Choice Act. While the celebrity endorsement was no doubt a boost, the bill, which would facilitate union organizing in workplaces nationwide, may have the most dramatic effect on workers of color. Pro-labor groups point to a greater “union advantage” in the earnings of Black, Latino and Asian American workers compared to white workers. The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports:

On average, unionization raised Latino workers’ wages by 17.6 percent –- about $2.60 per hour –- compared to non-union Latino workers with similar characteristics. The union impact on health-insurance and pension coverage was even larger. Among Latinos, union workers were about 26 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and about 27 percentage points more likely to be in an employer-provided pension.

Another study by the Economic Policy Institute linked unionization to increases in wages of 18.3 and 21.9 percent for Black and Latino workers, respectively. Unionized recent immigrants earned an estimated 16.5 percent more than their non-union peers. Yet the benefit of the EFCA—now imperiled by resistance in the Senate—is not a budget outlay or a tax credit; it simply restructures an outmoded voting process that lends itself to rampant manipulation by employers. (Though the right is trying to recast the debate as an issue of democracy, with some race-baiting to boot.) Union organizing, which has been spiraling downward since the late 1970s, won’t dismantle the structural barriers to economic advancement facing communities of color. The abysmal racial wealth gap persists. Prospects for upward mobility for Blacks still lag far behind those of whites. Various sectors where immigrants, women and people of color are concentrated, like domestic work, remain largely alienated from the federal labor regulatory structure. But the expansion of labor-organizing rights would give historically marginalized workers what no federal stimulus can. The country is mired in the aftermath of corporate greed and mismanagement; moving toward recovery may depend on giving workers the political capital to build a stronger, fairer economy from the bottom up. Image: SEIU