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Workforce inequities are nothing new for people of color, specifically Latinos.
Long before COVID-19, many Latinos had unstable jobs with little-to-no benefits and lower wages than their white non-Latino coworkers. The pandemic made things worse.
But one thing saved many Latino jobs—a labor union contract, according to a comparison of unionized and non-unionized Latino workers by UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative.
Labor unions are organizations of workers that come together to negotiate better working conditions or other benefits as a collective bargaining.
“Our analysis suggests that unionization—even within the same industry and occupation—preserved employment and wages for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting for variations in unionization across occupations, industries, and worker characteristics,” the UCLA report states.
What Do the Findings on Latinos and Unionization Suggest?
To better understand how union membership affected the employment and income stability of Latinos during COVID-19, UCLA conducted a study.
The key findings from UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative were:
- At the height of COVID-19’s economic recession, Latino workers who were not part of a unionized labor union experienced job loss at a rate of seven times those in a union.
- As 2020 progressed, the number of Latino workers joining unions increased until 2021.
- Union coverage accounted for a lower probability of unemployment (-3.1% for Latinos) during the pandemic.
- Comparing all ethnic and racial groups, union workers earned more during the pandemic even though Latino and Black workers were influenced most by the disproportionate wage effect.
These findings recommend support for “recent calls to expand access to unionization,” as well as “federal legislation that makes it easier for workers to access the stable employment, higher wages, and more substantial benefits unions provide,” according to the report.
Why Does COVID-19 Affect Latinos Disproportionately in the Workforce?
Historically, Latinos are more likely than non-Latino whites to have jobs with low wages, minimal benefits, and unstable employment.
Latino families are also more likely to live in poverty than white families.
“Child poverty rates are more than twice as high for Latino children than White children (23.7% vs 8.9%). Poverty’s material hardships─difficulty meeting basic food, medical, housing, and transportation needs─lead to worse health and life outcomes,” according to a research review from Salud America!
Another factor for this inequity is the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unionized Latino workers were most likely to work in professional occupations like management. Non-unionized Latinos worked in service occupations characterized by high unemployment rates and low work-from-home rates.
“By June 2020, the unemployment rate had reached 9.4% for White men, 10.8% for White women, 16.6% for Black men, 14.3% for Black women, 13.3% for Hispanic men, and 16.1% for Hispanic women,” according to a BLS 2020 report.
Additionally, racism and discrimination in different industries and jobs also play a role in workforce and wage disparities, especially among Latino and Black women.
Hiring bias also contributes to the enormous Latina pay gap, and discrimination even lowered the probability of on-the-job-training for women, rendering them more expandable during layoffs, according to a Royalty 1996 report.
One story among many comes from Teresa Saenz, a 65-year-old Latina from Colombia who lost her job as a housekeeper in the U.S. after 40 years at the onset of the pandemic.
“I am a Latina fighter — a warrior — who faces my problems so that I can get ahead,” Saenz said in Spanish. “But at the same time, people need some support so they don’t feel defeated. And what’s that support? My work. I want to go back to work.”
According to The 19th, Saenz also lost her home after the Diplomat Beach Resort in Florida closed down due to the COVID-19 recession. Finding work was harder especially due to her age.
“The truth, based on lots of data over years, is that if you’re Black or Latino in the U.S., you get far from an equal shake. Your efforts have to be longer, stronger, and chances are you still will be treated worse. The deck gets stacked against you even as you try mightily and then people throw the results in your face,” wrote Erik Sherman in Forbes.
What Can You Do to Help Latino Workers?
The best way to mitigate unstable Latino unemployment is through advocating for policy and system change to expand access to unionization for all marginalized groups.
This allows for a stable job market and less stress during unexpected moments of economic recession because of disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Short-term actions suggested by the UCLA report include:
- Pass legislation at all levels (local, state, and federal) to raise the standard of living for non-union workers
At the federal level, legislators could pass a $15 minimum wage while laws could be passed at the state and local levels to help diminish the gap between the local minimum wage and rising costs of living.
2. Create programs to alleviate unstable employment among marginalized groups and wage inequities for sectors more prone to job losses during COVID-19.
Examples of programs include the expansion of childcare programs and funding to workgroups advocating for transportation equity, like the Innovative Equity Exploration (IEE) Special Project Workgroup established by Salud America!
UCLA also recommended long-term actions:
- Federal legislation to enforce the support of union formation, allowing them to engage in group bargaining.
“Pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021 which would make unionization more accessible for workers by dismantling right-to-work laws, legalizing solidarity strikes, banning employers from holding anti-union meetings during union elections, and prohibiting employers from taking disciplinary action against employees who seek to unionize,” according to the UCLA report.
- Policymakers should consider structured solutions to help workers of color find equitable pathways to union jobs.
“Invest in workforce development initiatives—such as California’s High Road Training Partnership—that generate economic mobility for underserved and low-income workers through vocational training, education, and quality career ladder jobs while improving worker and employer competitiveness in a rapidly-changing, carbon-constrained economy,” according to the UCLA report
- Break down the educational barriers people of color face.
“Eliminate onerous, costly, and inefficient civil service exams that pose unnecessary and discriminatory barriers to entry to unionized public sector jobs within state and local governments.”
UCLA’s findings highlight the importance of protecting workers’ right to join unions, form unions, and collectively bargain.
“For non-unionized workers, rebuilding our economic foundations for the most vulnerable will ensure that workers receive just compensation for their efforts and have the resources to meet their full economic potential,” according to the report. “This will require re-imagining current support systems—beyond increasing the minimum wage—to fully empower each Latina, woman, and worker of color to participate in a twenty-first century economy.”
We can also do our part in helping local Latino workers who face hardships during the pandemic.
Start by downloading a Health Equity Report Card from Salud America!
This report card displays data and resources your community has access to for healthcare, food, education, and other health equity related issues. You can advocate for your neighbors and present the Health Equity Report Card to your city’s leadership!