Nothing beats getting out of a think tank long enough to find out what’s really going on. Seth Freed Wessler, a researcher at the Applied Research Center, did just that, traveling to Michigan where he talked with workers for ARC’s “Race and Recession” report.
The title of his blog today at Huffington Post sums up what he found: GM Bankruptcy Hurts People of Color Hardest. Workers Desperately Need Employee Free Choice.
Wessler reminds us that “across the labor market, workers of color are overrepresented in occupations with high unemployment rates.” The loss of auto industry jobs strikes a massive blow to the ability of workers, especially black workers, to earn middle-class incomes. Workers like those Wessler talked with across Michigan.
I met Leo Shipman, a 24-year-old black man, who had recently lost his job in an auto parts factory in Detroit. “My biggest worry is my son,” he said about his 3-year-old. “You don’t know how you’re going to feed them. He doesn’t know the bills are running up, but I do.” When I met Shipman, he was on the edge of being evicted from his apartment.
As we now know, high levels of unionization equate with smaller income gaps between people of color and whites. But in the economy we’ve inherited from the last three decades of deregulation and declining union density, people of color are increasingly relegated to low-wage, precarious work that pays too little to support a family. Unless Congress acts now to ensure that work actually pays, these workers will have few options and we’ll only deepen the racial income and wealth divides.
Wessler recommends what those of us in the union movement have been fighting for over the years: reforming the nation’s labor laws to enable people who want to join a union to do so.
As a country, we’re reckoning with the fall-out from decades of putting profit above people. As precious union jobs disappear, the time has come to ensure that those who are unemployed—disproportionately people of color—are able to enter employment that actually pays. Congress should immediately pass the Employee Free Choice Act so that workers can demand fair pay without intimidation.