Unionization Decreasing among Black Workers: Big Fight Brewing as Companies Cut Pension and Healthcare Costs

By Hocker, Cliff | Black Enterprise, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Unionization Decreasing among Black Workers: Big Fight Brewing as Companies Cut Pension and Healthcare Costs


Hocker, Cliff, Black Enterprise


Union membership among blacks has dropped by almost 50% in the last two decades according to a study by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The study found that 31.7% of all black workers were unionized in 1983, but only 16.6% were in 2004. Last year, 2.18 million Africa American workers were union members, or 15.1% of the 14.46 million employed blacks, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

Disappearing union jobs explains the decline, says Gerald Jaynes, professor of economics and African American studies at Yale University and a member of the BLACK ENTERPRISE Board of Economists. Manufacturing accounts for many union jobs, and tens of thousands of union workers have been laid off in recent weeks by Detroit's Big Three automakers. "De-unionization" is another trend, as organizing union shops has become more difficult under National Labor Relations Board policies.

Decades ago, faint competition and premium prices meant manufacturers could afford high union wages and benefits. Cheap foreign goods are now pressuring U.S. companies to relocate abroad or to use non-union "right-to-work" labor (laws in several states prohibit trade unions from making membership a condition of employment).

Current U.S. law makes organizing workers difficult, says William E. Spriggs, chairman of Howard University's economics department and a BE Board of Economists member. Spriggs says unions' potency began weakening in 1981, when the Reagan administration had 11,000 striking air traffic controllers fired and the National Labor Relations Board started interpreting labor law in favor of employers. Labor issues are highly partisan, Spriggs says. Republicans oppose organized labor, and unions support Democrats.

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The decrease in unionization will be felt by workers as issues such as pensions gain importance.

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Unionization Decreasing among Black Workers: Big Fight Brewing as Companies Cut Pension and Healthcare Costs
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