Union Addresses Joblessness Among People of Color
James Wright | 10/12/2011, 12:43 p.m.
Leaders of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), along with officers in non-profit organizations that aid domestic workers and Latinos, met to discuss the "The Impact of the Jobs Crisis on People of Color" at SEIU headquarters in the District on Fri., Oct. 7.
SEIU National Communications Director Inga Skippings, said people of color are in trouble in the current economy, which is why a meeting to address the issue of joblessness among people of color was held, and why SEIU has launched a national campaign to focus on the high level of unemployment that persists in communities of color. "Workers of color are shut out of the job market in this economy," Skippings said. "We found out that only 103,000 jobs were created in September and I heard on the radio that some economists were saying that is not bad, but that is not good enough."
The Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported recently that the black unemployment rate last month was 16 percent while the rate for Latinos was 11.3 percent. Asian Americans were jobless at a rate of 7.8 percent with whites at 7.6 percent, according to the September numbers.
The jobless rate among people of color, who make up about 40-55 percent of the union's membership, is a concern of SEIU. The union represents 2.1 million workers in over 100 occupations in the United States, including Puerto Rico and Canada.
The union focuses on organizing workers in three main sectors: health care (represented by half of its members), public services (includes local and state government employees) and property services such as janitors, security officers and food service workers. SEIU is considered the fastest growing labor union in the nation and has over 150 branches. Skippings said that in 2010 approximately 27.1 million blacks and 24.8 million Latinos were considered to be living in poverty.
"Many people of color have to work two and sometimes three jobs in order to make ends meet," she said. "They have to work to keep a roof over their families' head and they have no time to guide their children." Eliseo Medina, SEIU's secretary-treasurer, said that greed on behalf of Wall Street and corporate America, banks playing games with the economy, corporations not paying their fair share of taxes has fueled joblessness among people of color.
"You are now beginning to see the old 'welfare queen' bringing brought back into the national conversation," said Medina, referring to the 1980s misconception by conservatives of a black woman who chooses excessive public assistance instead of work as a means of living.
"This conversation use to pit black against white but now it is pitting black against Latino," she said. "What people of color need are real jobs with benefits and a pension." Ai-Jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workforce Alliance, said the problems of domestic workers, who consist of mainly women of color, are coming to the attention of the public.
"We have 2.5 million domestic workers who clean houses and act as nannies," Poo said. "Even though these women work very hard in sometimes tough conditions, they are excluded from every major labor law. Domestic workers face a high degree of vulnerability on the job and are often the last to be hired and the first to be fired."