Why Labor Unions Are Targeting Employees of Color

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Workplace diversity issues have always been a point of discussion. CNN Money reported in the past that the nation’s population was 72% white during the baby boomer generation. This is compared to the more recent millennial and Gen Z generations in which only 56% of the group are considered white. This is a huge generational gap and it shows that we’re making strides in terms of diversity.

Despite this progress, there are still many diversity-related issues in the workplace that still raise concerns. A good example of this is the 55% of American workers that agree their workplace has diversity and inclusivity policies in place. This statistic might initially be interpreted as the country making progress towards accepting diversity, but it highlights that 45% of the workforce don’t believe they are in safe and welcome environments.

As a result of these lingering diversity issues, there has been an increase in labor unions targeting employees of color. Organizers can often sympathize or even empathize with employees on diversity issues. This can include a lack of promotion opportunities, difficulties dealing with supervisors and senior staff members (who are typically white), and also communication barriers.

Companies are failing to create empathic links with their employees

“Appreciating diversity has to be more than an empty slogan on a corporate website,” says Jason Greer, Founder of Greer Consulting. “Employees of color want to know that they work for an employer who values their contributions and is willing to promote their success in the same manner as their white counterparts. Failure to do so will leave employees of color vulnerable to labor unions that understand how to create empathic links based on shared histories of hurt, pain, and rejection.”

Greer highlights a serious lack of understanding on the employer’s part when it comes to diversity issues not just in the workplace, but around the world. A great example of this is the murder of George Floyd that occurred on May 25, 2020. To many employers, the situation had no real significance and was brushed off or ignored. But for the employees (especially those of color) it was a distressing time that would eventually spark protests across the country and the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement that began in 2013.

To reinforce this opinion, Greer personally had an encounter with employees that experienced the same frustrations. “I had a conversation with a group of employees who happened to be African American and Hispanic who were considering voting for a union in a NLRB secret ballot election.” On the subject of the murder of George Floyd, Gree had this to say; “The employees talked about coming to work the day after George Floyd was murdered. They hoped their employer would address the issues of Black Lives Matter and the subsequent protest with the employees with the hope of an increased focus on issues of diversity in the workplace. Instead, management put out a generic statement about “All Lives Matter” but never once checked in with the employees of color as to how they were processing George Floyd’s death, let alone opening a company-wide dialogue on how the company can come together in such a way where the company’s slogan “all lives matter” actually matched their lack of hiring diverse candidates in the management ranks.”

This shows a lack of understanding by employers regarding diversity issues that are present not just in the workplace, but also in the world. Employees of color need to know that they work for an employer that values their contributions but also understands the struggles and concerns that they share.

Unions will continue to take advantage of the situation unless employers take diversity seriously

Union organizers will continue to recruit more employees of color into their ranks unless employers start to take diversity seriously and move beyond just a slogan or company message that is never acted on, otherwise known as “woke washing”.

Zerega Consulting

A great example of this comes from this article published on July 27, 2020, titled “Woke-washing your company won’t cut it”. The article follows Kelli, a data scientist working for a tech company who recently submitted a request for a promotion. Unfortunately, management said they didn’t have time to approve the application because they were busy thinking of a company response to the racial injustice and police brutality that was occurring at the time. As an employee of color herself, it’s ironic that senior leadership would brush off and ignore her request to be promoted while claiming to respect and appreciate employees of color.

Unions specialize in empathizing with employees of color who are denied chances of promotion and are treated unfairly compared to their colleagues. They are led to believe that joining the union can encourage social and cultural change across the country. Considering that employees of color want to share the success of their white counterparts, it’s important to listen to their voices and act on their concerns instead of just creating a front for the public.

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