The New Face Of The Union Movement: Female, Minority -- And Poorly Paid

New union movement
New union movement

For much of the 20th century, America's unions were known for their fierce and relentless advocacy of manufacturing workers -- mostly men, working relatively high-paying, blue-collar jobs at steel mills and auto plants. But as the U.S. has moved from a manufacturing economy to a service-based one, the face of unions has changed dramatically.

Today, union workers are much more likely to be female, minority and poorly paid -- working as domestics, fast food cashiers or retail workers, as union activists have recruited service workers heavily.

This year, there have been attempts to organize fast food workers, as well as workers at Walmart. Even car wash workers have their own fledgling union effort, WASH New York, formed this year.

"This isn't just about job creation," says Tara Martin, a spokeswoman for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is supporting the community-group driven campaign. "This is about creating jobs for people so that they can take care of their families."

"For so long, labor avoided low-wage service jobs," notes Lowell Turner, professor of international and comparative labor at the Industrial Labor Relations School at Cornell. "But now this is the majority of jobs. If [unions are] not elevating these jobs, we'll have a whole class of workers living in poverty."

Numbers Tell The Story

In 1950, the services sector -- including the retail, financial services, health care and hotel industries -- comprised 60 percent of the economy, according to data compiled by UCLA.

Today the figure has grown to 80 percent.

Over the same period, factory work, carried out by icons of big labor like auto and steel workers, has shrunk from about 33 percent to just 10 percent, says the BBC.

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