Unions bolster opportunities for all workers in our country. They encourage political participation and offer access to the middle class, as a recent report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund explains. But unions and their benefits are especially important for communities of color, for whom unionization has long been a critical component of their economic mobility.
Workers who lack the collective leverage that unions provide are more distanced from the middle-class earnings and resources their unionized peers have, and this is particularly true for workers of color. Indeed, numbers show that most nonunion, nonwhite public-sector workers today fall farther below the median income of their white coworkers than they would with a union safety-net. And workers of color, including Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Pacific Islanders, are often concentrated at the low-end of the wage spectrum—jobs which often benefit the most from the protection of unions.
In lower-wage industries where union busting dramatically tempers access to competitive benefits, workers of color slide even farther down the wage scale. In the case of Wisconsin, and the impending attempts to decimate unions’ collective bargaining power in Indiana and Ohio, people of color are increasingly being shut out of decent work and incomes because of weakened standards and lowered wage floors. These shutouts undermine the concentrated efforts that slowly inched workers of color toward closing the racial wealth gap that plagues low and middle-income people of color the most.
Although some wage gaps have been narrowed, it remains evident that the middle-class status-markers of competitive industry wages, comprehensive health care, and retirement benefits continually prove elusive for workers in lower-wage industries and public-sector work. Where workers of color are occupationally segregated—statistically crowded out of higher-wage, predominately white worker occupied jobs—available positions are decreasingly unionized (if at all) in addition to being low-income-earning positions with little to no benefits. In this context, the success of unions in boosting socioeconomic mobility becomes inarguably apparent.
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