For working families trying to survive in this depressing economy, the ability to negotiate for higher wages and increases, healthcare, pensions, and other benefits helps level the playing field, especially for groups that have historically suffered job and wage discrimination and social disparities like access to healthcare.
In February, the NAACP Board of Directors passed a resolution in support of union workers and collective bargaining. NAACP leaders have participated in peaceful protests in Wisconsin and across the country in support of public employees' right to bargain. The organization also announced a special commendation at its Image Awards for the workers and families who are protesting the nationally coordinated attack on the middle class.
Anti-union initiatives like threats to collective bargaining in the workplace and “Right to Work” (for less pay and without protections, that is) legislation make things especially difficult for Black workers--who are already less likely than whites to have employer-provided health insurance and pension plans. And, according to the Department of Labor, only 44 percent of African-American male workers have any pension coverage at all.
However, if you're an African-American worker who belongs to a union, the advantages in are sizable. This is especially true in Wisconsin, where African-Americans make up 40 percent of the state's population.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unionized African-American workers earn 30 percent more than their non-union counterparts; are 16 percent more likely to have employer-provided health coverage; and are 19 percent more likely to have pensions.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to what’s happening to workers in Wisconsin or any state—especially those with sizeable African American communities facing the most calamitous impacts of the nation’s failing economy,” says L. Toni Lewis, M.D., Healthcare chair for Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
For more on how unions and state budget battles effect African-American workers, read Dr. Lewis’s op-ed, “Attacks on workers in Wisconsin are attacks on Black workers everywhere,” which ran in the Milwaukee Courier in February.
Find out more about the connection between public unions, the Black workforce, and the union difference for African American workers in “Black Workers Central to National Union Battle,” by Jamilah King of Colorlines.
And check out “Unions and Upward Mobility for African American Workers,” by the Center for Economic Policy Research, which found that unionized Black workers earn an average of 12 percent more than their non-union peers, are much more likely to have health-insurance, a pension plan and better benefits than their non-union counterparts.
Kawana Lloyd is the National Communications Coordinator for the SEIU.