We’re All in This Together: Why Unions Still Matter

Written by admin   // February 25, 2011   // 0 Comments

by Phil Neuenfeldt and Sheila Cochran

The unemployment rate for African American males in Milwaukee is officially over 16 percent. Counting those who are incarcerated, on probation or parole and those who have given up looking for work altogether, the real jobless rate is actually over 50 percent.

Our community has not seen an economic recovery yet, we know we live here and we see it every day. So why should unemployed or underemployed people care when their working brothers and sisters in unions are attacked, especially in the African American community? Don’t we have enough to worry about without defending those who have it relatively good?

Simply put, many of those who find themselves without a job today, or for years, used to be or want to be a part of the workforce and many were the backbone of the manufacturing unions in this town. Dismantling unions is a way for the rich and powerful to make sure that poor working-class people don’t bounce back from the recession with institutions that help fight for fairness and equality. We know that continued dismissal of the poor and pitting union workers against the unemployed will only in play in the hands or the rich and powerful.

Union membership is statistically one of the surest ways to close the pay and benefit gaps that still persists for workers of color. According to a 2008 paper by John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, black union workers’ wages average 12% higher (about $2 per hour more) when compared to black workers with similar characteristics who are not in unions. The benefits of a union are even more striking for workers in the lowest wage jobs, where black union members enjoy 14% higher wages than their non-union counterparts. African American union members are also far more likely to have health care and pension benefits than African American workers who aren’t in a union.

Those who recently took power in Madison are using the jobs crisis as an excuse to punish their political enemies and consolidate corporate power. As one of the last ways for ordinary working people to come together and hold reckless CEO’s accountable, unions are target number one.

Strong, democratic unions are still one of the best tools available to fight for job creation and equality in the workplace. If we let the economic downturn become an excuse to pit working people against one another to weaken or eliminate unions, we all lose.

We thank the Milwaukee Community Journal for recognizing the serious threat that attacks on unions pose to all working people by publishing this special edition, and we invite all Milwaukee working families, not just those who happen to be union members right now, to join in our fight for family-sustaining jobs.

Phil Neuenfeldt is the President of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, which represents over 250,000 union workers statewide. Sheila Cochran is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, which has over 52,000 members across Washington, Milwaukee and Ozaukee Counties. Both organizations are committed to improving the lives of working families by bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to our state and the nation.

We’re All in This Together: Why Unions Still Matter

by Phil Neuenfeldt and Sheila Cochran

The unemployment rate for African American males in Milwaukee is officially over 16 percent. Counting those who are incarcerated, on probation or parole and those who have given up looking for work altogether, the real jobless rate is actually over 50 percent.

Our community has not seen an economic recovery yet, we know we live here and we see it every day. So why should unemployed or underemployed people care when their working brothers and sisters in unions are attacked, especially in the African American community? Don’t we have enough to worry about without defending those who have it relatively good?

Simply put, many of those who find themselves without a job today, or for years, used to be or want to be a part of the workforce and many were the backbone of the manufacturing unions in this town. Dismantling unions is a way for the rich and powerful to make sure that poor working-class people don’t bounce back from the recession with institutions that help fight for fairness and equality. We know that continued dismissal of the poor and pitting union workers against the unemployed will only in play in the hands or the rich and powerful.

Union membership is statistically one of the surest ways to close the pay and benefit gaps that still persists for workers of color. According to a 2008 paper by John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, black union workers’ wages average 12% higher (about $2 per hour more) when compared to black workers with similar characteristics who are not in unions. The benefits of a union are even more striking for workers in the lowest wage jobs, where black union members enjoy 14% higher wages than their non-union counterparts. African American union members are also far more likely to have health care and pension benefits than African American workers who aren’t in a union.

Those who recently took power in Madison are using the jobs crisis as an excuse to punish their political enemies and consolidate corporate power. As one of the last ways for ordinary working people to come together and hold reckless CEO’s accountable, unions are target number one.

Strong, democratic unions are still one of the best tools available to fight for job creation and equality in the workplace. If we let the economic downturn become an excuse to pit working people against one another to weaken or eliminate unions, we all lose.

We thank the Milwaukee Community Journal for recognizing the serious threat that attacks on unions pose to all working people by publishing this special edition, and we invite all Milwaukee working families, not just those who happen to be union members right now, to join in our fight for family-sustaining jobs.

Phil Neuenfeldt is the President of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, which represents over 250,000 union workers statewide. Sheila Cochran is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, which has over 52,000 members across Washington, Milwaukee and Ozaukee Counties. Both organizations are committed to improving the lives of working families by bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to our state and the nation.

 


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