Latino ranks up in unions

The news: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in March that union memberships in Illinois reached 939,000 after growing by 97,000 in 2008.

Behind the news: The racial makeup of Illinois’ unionized workers has changed dramatically over the past decade, with Hispanic membership soaring.

From 1998 to 2008, Hispanic numbers swelled by 25.3 percent, climbing from 99,000 to 124,000. During that same period, black participation fell by 19.7 percent, from 213,000 to 171,000.

White figures slipped from 767,000 to 735,000, a 4.2 percent loss.

Cynthia Martinez, a union advocate with the DePaul Labor Education Center, said unions are focusing recruitment efforts on the Hispanic contingent because the work force is increasingly immigrant. These communities are now more willing to seek the protection of unions.

“There’s always a learning curve. Eventually, marginalized people –¦ get angry about wage thefts and health and safety hazards,” she said.

According to David Moberg, a sociologist and senior editor at In These Times, the AFL-CIO changed its immigration policy in 2000 to oppose penalizing employers for hiring undocumented workers.

“There haven’t been dramatic political implications from these changing demographics –¦ yet. However, if

African Americans continue to lose their foothold, their influence in the labor movement will be reduced, and there’s an increased risk that tensions may develop,” Moberg said.

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