New state laws curtail the power of unions, and possibly black earning potential.
(The Root) -- On the heels of a major loss for organized labor in Wisconsin earlier this year, when the state's governor signed a law limiting collective bargaining rights (a law later struck down by a judge and pending appeal), unions are now under siege in the state of Michigan. On Tuesday Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a series of controversial "right to work" laws, which will limit the powers of the state's organized labor force.
Among the measures: Union dues can no longer be compulsory in private workplaces with labor contracts, which critics fear will sap union finances and clout. The move has sparked national outrage among progressives, as well as fear among many members of the working class. But black working men and women may have particular reason to worry.
According to a report, being in a union puts black Americans noticeably ahead, economically, of their nonunionized black counterparts. "On average, unionization raised black workers' wages 12 percent -- about $2 per hour -- relative to black workers with similar characteristics who were not in unions," a 2008 report from the Center for Economic Policy Research (pdf) found. Given that blacks overindex for labor union membership, these wage differentials have a greater impact on overall black earning power.
The report went on to note that for benefits, like health insurance and pensions, unionization had an even more profound effect on the economic stability of black workers. "African-American workers who were in unions were 16 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 19 percentage points more likely to have a pension plan than similar nonunion workers," according to the report. For low-wage jobs, the benefits of union membership were even more pronounced. Black Americans in low-wage jobs who were unionized were 20 percent more likely to have insurance and 28 percent more likely to have pension plans than their nonunionized low-wage counterparts.
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Union protesters in the Michigan State Capitol (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)