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STUDY: When Women of Color Lead Union Organizing Drives, They Usually Win

Women of Color Labor Union

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A new report, “And Still I Rise: Black Women Labor Leader’s Voices, Power, and Promise,” links the success of organized labor to its inclusion of women of color. 

The report supports findings from a 2007 Cornell and Columbia universities study which linked black women and organizing successes. That study, which uses numbers from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), found that union organizing efforts led by a majority of white men have the lowest win rates (35 percent) compared to those led by a majority women of color (82 percent).  The study also found that when women of color are the lead organizers in units where more than 75 percent of the targeted workers are women of color, they win 89 percent of the time.  

Now, researchers Kimberly Freeman Brown and Marc Bayard add evidence that supports the theory that reaching out to more black women to join unions would have an impact on broader social labor trends in U.S. society, such as rising income inequality.

Speaking to, Brown said:

“Black women sit at the nexus of every economic ill this country is facing.  By improving their economic conditions-something that unions frequently are able to do-the economic tide for all workers rises.”

Bayard, Director of the Institute for Policy Studies’ Black Worker Initiative, added:

I think there is starting to be a realization of the amazing underutilization of such an important resource; black women in the labor movement.  Our report’s goal was to raise a lot of questions, and develop a series of recommendations that the labor movement can be a part of.”

Carmen Berkley, director of civil, human and women’s rights at the AFL-CIO, told that she and her colleagues were “heartened” by the report because it will inspire unions to further their inclusivity efforts. “We are able to prove what we already know,” she said in a phone interview, “that women and people of color, specifically black people, want to be part of the labor movement.”

Berkley added that the AFL-CIO is beginning a series of conversations around the country on this subject:

“We will be talking to local labor movements about some of the issues and what is stopping them from doing more of this cross-cutting organizing.  Issues of race and gender are right in our face. If you aren’t talking about gender and race, you are a decade behind.”

To read more about the report or to read in its entirety, including its forward by Congresswoman Donna Edwards, please visit the And Still I Rise website.


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