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Unionization found to reduce pay discrimination

Studies show that unionization narrows the pay gap between black and nonblack workers and between men and women

The earnings gap between black and nonblack workers is smaller among union members than among members of the labor force as a whole, according to a report issued Friday from the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.

The report found that unionized black workers make a median $21.62 per hour, roughly 10 percent less than unionized nonblack workers’ $24.04 hourly wage. Nonunion black workers earned a median $13.65 per hour, compared with nonunion nonblack workers’ $17.00 — a nearly 20 percent pay disadvantage.

A similar study issued late last month by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that unionization also narrows the pay gap between men and women, such that unionized women earn 88.7 percent of their male unionized counterparts. Among workers as a whole — union and nonunion — women earn 78 percent of what men take home, on average.

Together the two studies suggest that raising the rate of unionization would help correct some of the most persistent forms of pay discrimination in the U.S.

CUNY sociologist Ruth Milkman, who co-authored the Murphy Institute report, said wage differentials in a unionized workplace tend to be lower across the board. “Unions tend to negotiate both a higher floor and a lower ceiling in terms of wages, so that’s the main thing,” she said.

An April Pew survey found African-Americans tend to hold a more favorable view of labor unions than other Americans: 60 percent of black respondents reported feeling positive toward unions, as opposed to 45 percent of white respondents and 48 percent of the population overall.

Women and men in that survey held roughly the same views, with 47 percent of women and 48 percent of men saying they were pro-union.

Whereas women and men are unionized in roughly equal proportion — 11.7 percent of women and 12.8 percent of men are union members — black workers are disproportionately likely to work under collective bargaining agreements.

The Murphy Institute report found the unionization rate for black workers nationwide is 121 percent of nonblack workers’ rate.

Union membership aside, a sizable body of research shows that black Americans remain at a significant disadvantage when it comes to wealth and income. In 1967, near the end of the Jim Crow era, the median white non-Hispanic household’s income was 72 percent higher than the median black household’s income; in 2013 the income gap had barely shrunk, to 68 percent.

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