Class warfare, protecting white workers from cheaper black labor, was the inspiration for some early unions in this country.
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... In the 1960s, Walter Reuther and his UAW championed antidiscrimination laws, by funding the March on Washington of 1963 and by lobbying for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In 2006, median earnings for women in unions was 31 percent higher than for non-union women; 36 percent greater for unionized African Americans; 8 percent more for Asian Americans; and 46 percent more for Latinos.
Union members are also far more likely to have health care benefits, and to have a greater share of health care benefits paid for by their employers. They are also more likely to receive sick leave and other types of paid time off.
For many minority workers, already living from paycheck to paycheck, illness can be devastating financially, and union negotiated benefits provide an important safety net. These benefits also help ensure that women workers with significant family-care responsibilities do not have to trade career advancement in order to care for their families.
Unions also monitor and enforce contractual safety standards to ensure that no worker is unreasonably exposed to danger in the workplace – something especially beneficial to immigrant workers in highly dangerous fields. Further, union members are more likely to have retirement benefits.
These wage and benefit premiums can help give the poorest workers the stability and access to resources they need to forge better lives for themselves and to greatly expand their children’s opportunities.
For LGBT workers, who today enjoy no federal legal protection, unions may be the only protection against mistreatment based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Unions can also help negotiate for equal benefits for LGBT workers, including same-sex partner health care coverage.
Finally, today, unions remain catalysts for new laws to improve the workplace, just as they once contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Most recently, unions stood side-by-side with civil rights groups in support of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was signed by President Obama this January and restored workers’ ability to pursue pay discrimination claims.