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Unions Aiming at Hispanics and Getting Ready - Are You?

Years ago, as unions started losing their traditional members, they started targeting Latino workers for membership drives; they felt they were one of the most vulnerable ethnic groups and were an easy fix to stop their dwindling rank and file numbers.

Ricardo Torres President & CEO - PSLC

11/6/2009

Years ago, as unions started losing their traditional members, they started targeting Latino workers for membership drives; they felt they were one of the most vulnerable ethnic groups and were an easy fix to stop their dwindling rank and file numbers.

As an organizing director, I knew we had to expand our Hispanic organizing base so we could start opening up new frontiers in areas of the country that traditionally were non-union. We saw the Hispanic workforce growing and moving across the lower 48 states at a tremendous speed in every industry. First generation migrant workers were moving off the farms and into factories, construction, hotels, restaurants, hospitals and every job imaginable.

The language barrier caused many Latinos to have mistrust in management and in many areas lived segregated from other ethnic groups.

As our influence grew into the Hispanic communities, we knew we had to continue to gain their trust by infiltrating their neighborhoods via churches, community groups, political action and more. We found that there was a deep resentment towards management because many companies didn’t know how to direct these workers, had no hand books, policy or write-up forms in Spanish, they promoted their workers into supervisors based only on their ability to speak Spanish and not question if they were mistreating their employees or their qualifications as managers, nor did they understand the cultural differences between Hispanic groups.

It is an undeniable fact that demographics have been changing in the United States for the last four decades with Hispanics being the fastest growing ethnicity throughout the country.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population in the United States in 1970 was 9.6 million, next years it is projected to be 47.8, and by 2050 the number should be over 100 million. As of July of 2006, the growth rate of Hispanics was 24.3%, more than three times of the total population of 6%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This tendency is projected to continue and as a response to these changes the business community has also changed its strategies, from marketing and services to workforce recruitment and training. The goal is to reach these communities before the competition.

Labor Unions are no different. After all, it’s another multi-billion dollar business. Union density has been steadily declining for the last three or four decades for multiple reasons. Among those reasons are jobs taken overseas, workers’ disappointments because of union corruption, misrepresentation, unionized businesses unable to compete with their non-union counterparts due to higher cost of operation and being unable to make necessary changes when needed. However, unions have managed to keep the same percentage of membership of the country’s workforce for years and has even increased their numbers in the past two years. This is, in part, thanks to the growth of the Hispanic population and its presence in greater numbers than ever in every single industry, including those most targeted by unions like healthcare, service and production. Even labor union officials have repeatedly pointed out that the membership of Latinos in unions has double from 1983 to 2008. So, it is not so surprising to see unions strongly supporting an immigration reform legislation that would provide tools for immigrants without legal documentation to become permanent residents. It was simply a strategic decision.

Let’s not forget that unions, historically, have perceived immigrants as a threat; nevertheless, they have also realized that this demographic phenomenon is a process that seems irreversible, so they have focused their attention in the new workforce, Hispanics. Thus, they have been preparing and working to build the appropriate infrastructure to meet this challenge.

There are other factors that make unions think that the Hispanic community is a viable and more vulnerable target to join forces with them. This workforce is younger than the average median age of the country. Hispanics’ male and female median age is 27.0 and 27.6 years old respectively, and the U.S. average median age for male is 35.2 and for female 37.8 years old. Another data reflects that while the Hispanic males have a median earning of $27,500 yearly, the median earning of the total male population is $42,200, a gap of almost $15,000 a year. Although the gap with females is smaller, it still reflects a difference of almost $8,000 a year. We have found that fewer Hispanic families are covered by any kind of medical insurance, and the unemployment rate is higher than the national average. These factors are extensively exploited by unions. It is also important to say that union recruiters or organizers are trained on these matters to conveniently manipulate the workforce.

The Hispanic community is relatively young and Unions have shifted their attention to companies that employ or will employ Hispanics. Unions are also hiring more bilingual or multilingual staff to match immigrant workforce, especially Hispanics, even offering trainings in different languages and English classes to boost their recruitment potential.

As it was mentioned before, this is a competition and unions want to get to this community first. Let’s not forget that immigrants rarely know the laws, rights, regulations, market behavior and union history in the United States. By reaching to them first, the unions are taking advantage to further their agendas and increasing their chances to organize and take the employers by surprise, which is a key factor in the unionizing process.

Unions have worked very hard to give the impression that they care about the Hispanic workers across the country but, in my experience, I have seen them call immigration services on illegal workers when they wouldn’t support union organizing campaigns, most are only hired when they need them to speak to Spanish and only Spanish. They are called dangerous during strikes because “they are always the first to cross the picket line”. The unions have sponsored immigration marches in a veiled attempt to show how much they care about them and at the same time abuse them in advancement opportunities. I have been asked directly to have my organizers threaten immigrants illegally working in the US with deportation, in fact this was one of the reasons I left the union. “The straw that broke the camel’s back”

Now, there is a question: Who is the union competition? The answer is simple: Any business. Should any business wish to maintain union-free status, it must take preventive steps and provide necessary training in labor relations topics with professionals to its front line (supervisors) on how to avoid becoming a union target and be prepared for any uncertainty because any time you could become that target, no matter industry or location. Permanent Solutions provides preventative training with proven results. Permanent Solutions is also a multi-lingual company. Contact us today to continue on the road to being union free.