Tags: Unions | unions | agenda | civil rights | social justice

Labor Unions Adopt Civil Rights, Social Justice Issues

By    |   Wednesday, 15 Apr 2015 10:09 AM

In response to a decline in their ranks, labor unions have broadened their agenda to incorporate issues related to social and civil justice, both important issues to racial minorities who compromise a growing percentage of union membership.

"We are walking in each others' shoes. We've invested in the process of working together and of building in our community," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, says of the relationship between labor and civil rights in an interview with the National Journal.

In 2014, the percentage of workers who were members of unions declined by 0.2 percentage points to 11.1 percent, with the actual number of wage and salaried workers at 14.6 million, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.

In 1983, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.
 
According to the BLS statistics, public-sector workers had a union membership rate more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers, and black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian or Hispanic workers.

In the service industry, black workers comprise 20.5 percent of all combined food-preparation and serving workers, while Hispanics are 18.7 percent of those workers, according to another BLS report.

As the demographics of union membership shifts, labor organizations are adjusting to the trend and adopting platforms that are broader than workplace rights.

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), tells the Journal that low wages are a form of "occupational racism" because of their disproportionate impact on racial minorities.

The merging of the union and labor movements could be seen Wednesday as fast-food workers nationwide held protests as part of the Fight for $15 campaign, which seeks a national $15 dollar minimum wage.

"It's something different," Kendall Fells, organizing director of Fight for $15, which is funded by the SEIU, tells USA Today.

"This is much more of an economic and racial justice movement than the fast-food workers strikes of the past two years."

The Fight for 15 movement's previous round of strikes nationwide also included a 15-minute action in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, which draws attention to shootings involving police and black men.

And, in February, the AFL-CIO created a new Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice to examine racial issues within the labor movement.

"The labor movement has an opportunity to be on the right side of history by standing up for racial and economic justice at a time when these issues are at the front of the public consciousness. When we have embraced our better selves, we have always emerged stronger in every sense," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement praising the commission's creation.

"A half-century ago, labor leaders sought common cause with civil rights groups in passing legislation to outlaw employment discrimination based on factors such as race, sex, religion and national origin," wrote Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit, fellows at the Century Foundation, in a 2014 editorial in The Hill.

"Now, leading civil rights figures in Congress are taking steps to outlaw a relatively new form of discrimination: against workers of all races who try to form a union," added the co-authors of the book, "Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice."

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In response to a decline in their ranks, labor unions have broadened their agenda to incorporate issues related to social and civil justice, both important issues to racial minorities who compromise a growing percentage of union membership.
unions, agenda, civil rights, social justice
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2015-09-15
Wednesday, 15 Apr 2015 10:09 AM
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