Celebrated on the first Monday of September, and consisting of an entire weekend, this past weekend across the country we celebrated Labor Day. A day—or again a weekend—where we acknowledge the American Labor Movement, Labor Day is a day dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers within the United States of America. Today, the current landscape of the workforce is becoming increasingly populated by members of the Latino community.
And according to some Latino officials and Labor leaders, since the workforce is increasingly containing more Hispanic workers there should be recognition to these workers and improved conditions since they are the future workforce of our nation.
“President Obama’s opportunity agenda is about rewarding hard work with a fair wage,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, in a recent statement talking about how the livelihood of Hispanic workers and other American workers can be improved in this country, “That’s why we’ve fought so hard for an increase in the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. It’s based on a very basic value proposition: no one who works full-time in America should have to raise their families in poverty. The president’s proposal would benefit 28 million workers nationwide, one quarter of whom are Latino.”
In order to honor workers on Labor Day, and continue the high-regard towards workers in the workforce should receive, Perez believes that Hispanic workers and workers in-general should be recognized for their contribution and aided to ensure that they are given a livelihood that doesn’t take so much from them while offering so little.
On the matter of low-wage workers, Perez recognizes that there are far too many low-wage Latino workers within the workforce who are struggling. “Do we buy a gallon of milk or a gallon of gas? Do we pay the utility bill this month or buy school supplies? Raising the minimum wage would put more money in their pockets, giving them a little more breathing room and peace of mind.”
While acknowledging the hardship of today’s workers within a not-so-savory economy, there are those trying to remind why it is important to pay attention and care towards workers within our nation’s workforce. When it comes to understanding the importance of Hispanics within the workforce union leaders are stepping forward to stress the significance of Hispanics as a crucial force in today’s labor movement.
“Everyone has read the demographic statistics on what is going on,” said Yvette Herrera, Senior Director, Politics, Communication, and Education of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). “But I see things changing. I see more Latino leaders in the labor movement, and they are really coming up in terms of leadership.”
In the past years, Herrera noted that unions didn’t pay much mind to Latino workers. However, now with the increasing rise of Latinos entering the workforce and changing the environment she is noting that unions are trying to reach out more to Latino workers. And the reach out to Latino workers is even greater within Southern states of the U.S.
“There was a time when we stayed away from those states,” Herrera said, talking about the shift in approach towards Latinos in the South. “But those days are over.”
Although there is a change to how unions are reaching out to members within the Latino community, a Hispanic worker presence within unions is still something that isn’t exactly there.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, membership within unions among Hispanics is lower than any other demographic groups. In 2013, only 9.4% of Latinos were in a union, which is lower than the national average for union membership which stands at 11.3%. Hispanic union membership is significantly low when compared to the 15.6 of Latinos who make up the workforce.
“I see more effort being taken today by the labor movement than ever before to organize Latinos,” said Chuck Rocha, president of the consulting firm Solidarity Strategies, who notices that unions are becoming more broad with the acceptance of Hispanic workers. “Almost every union in the country has Latino outreach going on.”
In a 2010 report by the National Council of La Raza, when it comes to acquiring greater financial gains from union membership Latinos were found to receive more gain than other workers. According to the report, Hispanic male and female workers within unions earned more than non-union counterparts.
However, despite these findings the median income among Hispanics lagged behind other Americans. Also, there continues to be an income inequality that appears to be growing among Latinos in comparison to other Americans.
According to Hector E. Sanchez, the Executive Director of Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the way of improving the economic well-being of Hispanics in this country is by their inclusion into the unions.
“Latinos are the most likely of any group to suffer wage violations and wage theft, they are among the highest for workplace injuries, and…Latinas, on average, only make 60 cents on the dollar compared to other workers—the largest wage gap among working women. So Latinos, more than other groups, need union protections.”
In-addition to supporting Hispanics becoming more economically secure in this country, Sanchez argues that the organized labor into unions can aid in immigration reform since unions strongly support immigration reform.
“Our undocumented people are the most vulnerable group in the workforce, and we cannot ignore them. I am optimistic that we can change things, by continuing to put pressure on the president for executive action, and on Congress to act.”
So, while some may view Labor Day Weekend as the final weekend of summer and not know its true significance it’s important to remember. Labor Day is to remember, reflect on the hardships Labor workers endured in the past, face today, and how we can hope to change them in the future to come.