Making a Difference for Equality

Unions can be a powerful force for equality. Collective bargaining cuts down on employer favoritism, which helps women and people of color get a fair chance at work. Unions protect workers’ rights regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and union membership lifts wages significantly for women and people of color. Unions:

Help pass legislation key to equal rights, including:

  • The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963
Work for racial equality
  • Unions took an active role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, supporting the work of Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph, and others. In 1955 the NAACP called a strong labor movement “a powerful weapon in the struggle to end racial discrimination” in training and employment of black workers.
  • In 2003, auto maintenance workers claiming racial discrimination at U-Haul organized a union to fight for equitable wages and benefits. 
  • In 2008, the Teamsters joined the NAACP in standing up against racial discrimination and workers’ rights violations at New Era’s distribution center in Mobile, AL.
  • In 2008, SEIU joined with the National Conference of Black Mayors to address racial gaps in health care access and quality.

Defend the rights of women in the workplace, fighting discrimination and working for wage equality. 

  • Unions supported Lilly Ledbetter in her claim of gender-based wage discrimination, a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, and helped pass legislation making it easier for victims of wage discrimination to seek compensation.  

Support equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

  • In California, most major unions opposed Proposition 8, which overturned marriage equality for same-sex couples. 
  • In Michigan, Local 6000 of the United Auto Workers helped defend state workers whose domestic partner benefits had come under attack by the same groups that worked to pass the state’s recent ban on gay marriage.
  • Several unions have officially endorsed civil marriage equality.

Oppose discrimination and firing based on immigration status and speak out against illegal detentions and human rights abuses. Many unions support comprehensive immigration reform, and unionized immigrant workers make 17% more than their non-union peers.

Have clear economic benefits for people of color.
  • Latino union members make 51% more than nonunion Latino workers, and are more likely to have health and retirement benefits.1
  • African-American union members make 35% more then their non-union counterparts. Unionized black workers are also more likely to have health and retirement benefits.2
  • Asian-American union members make 4% more than non-union Asian American workers.

Boost working women’s earning power.

  • Women in unions make 33% more non-union women, and are more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and pensions.3 The benefits of union membership are especially large for women in low-wage occupations.3
  • In 2002, hundreds of the largely female teaching assistants and teacher aides in the Ithaca, NY, school district organized a union and bargained to raise the starting salary from $6.72 an hour to $10.05 an hour.

Read more:

  • Unions Making a Difference for Everyone
  • Unions Making a Difference for Business
  • Unions Making a Difference for Families
  • Unions Making a Difference for the Environment
  • Unions Making a Difference for Health
  • Citations:

    1. John Schmitt, Unions and Upward Mobility for Latino Workers, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Sept. 2008
    2. John Schmitt, Unions and Upward Mobility for African-American Workers, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Apr. 2008
    3. John Schmitt, Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Dec. 2008