The beginning of the 21st Century reminds many historians of the Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century. Unions are a perfect example of the old saying, “history repeats itself”. Union membership, currently at 11.3% of the working population, is the lowest since the 1930’s. That is a staggering fact considering they were almost 1 in 3 jobs in the 1950’s. What has changed within unions to bring about this great backlash? I will explore the relative connection between minorities and union privatization. I believe a majority of minority membership has supported the privatization campaign.
As unions fought back concessions, layoffs, and offshoring, minorities gained union members. Unions have always been a gateway for minorities, race and gender included, to be paid the same prevailing wage with the same benefits. Unions have always attracted these members. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, African-Americans are more likely to be union. African-American membership is 30% followed by 25% White and 22% each for Asian and Hispanic members. Women of all races create 48% of union membership. These numbers combined to create a minority based union membership. The gains of minorities have been a long and hard-fought battle for job equality. Unions adhere to the Civil Rights Act and hire and advocate job and EEOC equality. These minorities that still make less money than the average white male counterpart create the middle class. Unions are not just a job, they are living proof of the Civil Rights Act.
As these minorities (including myself as a female union member) have gained traction into the American Dream politicians have decided to privatize. As companies and governments privatize they eliminate minority based jobs. In November 2011 Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Chicago City Council decided to privatize 222 AFSCME jobs which were 85% African American. They have been working furiously to privatize garbage as well. Streets and Sanitation laborers are majority African-American and minority. What does this mean?
The privatization of unions is a Civil Rights violation. If a minority based group will be detrimentally affected by changes it is illegal. Affirmative Action and its strength in creating positions for minorities is a perfect example. The Civil Rights Act cannot be impeded to create a monetary surplus for a government or private business by harming the minority employees. Minorities must be equally represented and protected within their employment due to the lack of employment opportunities for them across America. The Supreme Court recently upheld the validity of the Civil Rights Act by insisting upon minority inclusion (Affirmative Action) in every business decision.
Then what is the difference with privatization? There isn’t one. Privatization of unions, especially in the sampled case of Chicago Streets and Sanitation, must be fought in the court system on the strength of minority membership and the Civil Rights Act. The Chicago Sun-Times and community sources are asking where is the $18 million savings from the grid project? Privatization is not the best answer. Along with the privatization of city functions from San Francisco to New Zealand, the reversals back to the public are proof that it’s not the best economic repair. Cities cannot function when minorities lose their job base. A quick glance at the empty streets and homes of Detroit is proof enough.
This article originally ran in 2013. It is a revision to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An American hero.