Labor Day 2016

As the Twin Cities struggle with how to address racial disparities in income, a new report offers evidence that labor unions provide an important path up the economic ladder for people of color.

Just in time for Labor Day, the first “State of Minnesota Unions” report was released Sept. 2 at the AFL-CIO Labor Pavilion at the Minnesota State Fair. Download the report.

The report presents an overview of all sectors of unionized employment in the state and analyzes the effect unions have on wages and benefits. It was co-authored by Monica Bielski Boris of the University of Minnesota Labor Education Service along with researchers from the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, the University of Illinois and the Illinois Economic Policy Institute.

In Minnesota, unions raise worker wages by 11 percent on average, the researchers found. But they have an even greater effect on the wages of people of color, boosting the hourly earnings of non-white workers by more than 17 percent.

“Unions are therefore one of the most effective anti-poverty institutions in Minnesota,” Bielski Boris and the other authors wrote.

The union membership rate is 14 percent in Minnesota, 3 percentage points higher than the U.S. average, according to the report. In 2015, about 362,000 Minnesota workers belonged to a labor union.

The rate varies by type of job – with membership higher in the public sector than the private sector – and by area of the state.

Labor unions continue to face challenges – both economically and politically – to their growth, the authors note. “However, organized labor still plays a vital role in Minnesota’s economy and communities.”

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