What Can Unions Do For Latinos?

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latino_coalition_workers_rigthsWhat Can Unions do For Latinos?

Hispanics have become the largest minority in the United States and it is estimated that by 2025, Hispanics will account for 18 percent of the elderly population. Currently, 1 in 6 Latino seniors live under the poverty level. Union participation would mean that they would be more likely to be prepared for retirement. Unions assist workers to plan for their future retirement oftentimes providing pensions and other retirement benefits.

Latinos are among the youngest population group in the United States with a median age of 25.8 years more than 10 years younger than the median age for the U.S. population of 36.7 years.

Latinos have more children, have greater family stability, and more than half of all Latinos living in the United States are fully bilingual. Needless to say, union membership would assist them in making better wages and move many of them into higher paying jobs with benefits.

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in 2008, workers represented by unions earned a median weekly salary of $886.00 while non-unionized workers had a median weekly earnings amounting to $691.00.

The stimulus package promotes “green sectorjobs. There are solid examples of middle-class jobs where unions can be helpful because of the education and training that they provide. Where leading green companies have adopted a partnership approach with unions, they have stated that it added value and positioned the companies to grow because of the new skills and approaches that must be taken. Latino workers organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in San Francisco have starting wages of $20/hour.

The Laborers Local 55 are training residents of low-income neighborhoods to weatherize their homes in partnership with the mayor of Newark not only helping them acquire new skill sets, but assisting them in reducing their overall utilities costs.


Latinos in the Labor Movement

latinos_in_the_labor_movementUnion membership increased significantly in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) annual union membership report. The unionized share of the U.S. workforce climbed to 12.4 percent last year from 12.1 percent in 2007, an addition to union rolls of more than 420,000 members.

While the gains were broadly shared across demographic lines and occupations, growth was strongest in the public sector, among Hispanics, and in Western states, driving the largest membership increase in more than a quarter of a century.

While overall employment in the private sector shrank in 2008, few major industries or occupations saw unionization rates decline. Small drops in unionization in financial and business services and in mining were more than offset by membership gains in education, health, and hospitality services.

Private-sector unionization rose from 7.5 percent in 2007 to 7.6 percent in 2008. Organizing drives can be difficult in the private sector, where employers may often fire workers without cause. Through employment contracts and legislation, public-sector employees typically have greater protection against dismissals.

A "union job" in the private sector today is most likely to be in transportation and utilities (22.2 percent) or telecommunications (19.3 percent), industries with significant Latino density.

As the housing crisis elicited sharp declines in the largely non-unionized residential construction sector, the level of union membership within the overall construction industry remained the same, at about 1.2 million workers. 

More than 120,000 Hispanics became union members in 2008, with their membership rate rising to 10.6 percent from 9.8 percent in 2007.

Looking at the regional aspects, unionization increased in Mid-Western states, from 13.8 percent to 14.3 percent, yet failed to match the rapid pace of expansion in the West, where unionization grew from 14.7 percent to 15.7 percent. Although the Midwest does not necessarily have enormous numbers of Hispanics, for certain states, the growth they have experienced has stemmed from the increase of the Latino population. For example, Illinois Latino population is about 14.7% of the total population, but represents 70.22% of the state's growth.

Since 2006, unionization has surged in Western states. California alone added about 266,000 union members last year, raising its unionization rate to 18.4 percent from 16.7 percent in 2007. Latinos represent about 35.9% of the state's population but were 80.42% of the state's growth.

Over the last three years, union membership in the South has remained at 5.9 percent, less than half of the national average. But, in the South, even though the Latino population is relatively small, it is largely composed of workers with a median age of 24.8 compared to 40.2 for whites and 29.8 for African-Americans. The potential for union growth among Latinos lies in the steady growth of these communities and in their relative youth.