Report: Black Americans have sharpest decline in union membership

Stephon Johnson | 1/30/2020, 1:01 p.m.
The most unionized racial group has had the sharpest decline in membership.
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The most unionized racial group has had the sharpest decline in membership.

A new report by Center for Economic and Policy Research showed that union membership among African Americans declined faster than other demographics.

Black people are the most heavily unionized group at 11.2% but have been dealt the biggest loss of union membership. Black Americans lost 215,000 union members in 2019.

“Given that the average union worker earns substantially more per week than the average non-union worker, this year’s drop in Black union membership is of particular concern,” said co-author Hayley Brown.

Overall, union membership rates fell to 10.3%, dropping by 0.2 percentage points from 2018 to 2019 (about 170,000 union jobs). Private and public sector worker union membership fell for two straight years representing a consistent decline over several decades. When broken down by state, for the second year in a row, New York had the biggest overall loss of union members with a 140,000 drop in members. California had the largest increase in union membership in 2019 with a 99,000 increase.

When it came to education, those with a high school degree or less experienced the biggest declines (down 0.4 percentage points to 9.5% for H.S. and 0.6. percentage points to 4.9% for lower than a H.S. degree). Those with a college degree had a higher unionization rate than those with a high school degree in 2019.

The drop in membership explains many recent labor battles.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, airport workers rallied at John F. Kennedy Airport to call and pray for health insurance benefits and protections for workers.

“On this day that we honor the memory of Dr. King,” said New York City Council Member Donovan Richards. “We must be mindful of his warning that ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.’ These hardworking New Yorkers deserve quality, affordable health insurance.”

The Chicago Teachers’ Union wants to keep the memory of MLK alive through their organizing and fighting for a better contract.

“King was fond of quoting, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’” read CTU’s statement. “Today, it can be hard to see the endpoint of that arc from where we stand. From housing inequality, to voters rights, to equitable schooling, so much of Dr. King’s dream is still unrealized.

“In the CTU, we are proud to organize for Black lives, as we did this past year in all five of our strikes where demands for adequate supports (like nurses, counselors and social workers) for our predominantly Black and Latinx students, sustainable community schools for their communities, and funding for programs that reverse the erasure of Black teachers in CPS stood front and center,” continued the statement. “The CTU is proud to declare that Black lives matter, and to organize and support our members as they dedicate their labor to that proposition.”