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News from EPI Unions promote racial diversity and increase wages in NYC construction

A new report by EPI President Lawrence Mishel finds that New York City’s union construction sector has become significantly more racially diverse in the past two decades and that union construction workers earn substantially more than nonunion construction workers, leading to an increased economic benefit for black and Hispanic communities.

Using newly developed data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics to analyze the racial composition of blue-collar union and nonunion construction employment, Mishel finds in Diversity in the NYC construction union and nonunion sectors that New York City’s union construction sector employs a greater share of black workers than the nonunion construction sector. In 2014, black workers accounted for 21.2 percent of employment in union construction, versus 15.8 percent in nonunion construction.

Unions have also drawn more black and Hispanic workers into construction through apprenticeship programs funded jointly by unions and construction contractors, which provide wages and benefits to workers while they learn job-related skills. The share of union apprentices that are people of color was over 60 percent in 2014, more than double the share in 1994.

Hispanic and black workers in construction unions earn 34.5 percent and 36.1 percent more than nonunion Hispanic and black construction workers, respectively. Because black workers have a greater presence in the union construction sector and are paid far more, collective bargaining in New York City greatly boosts overall annual wages to the black community from construction by $152 million each year.

“Recent efforts by unions to create an inclusive construction workforce are paying off,” said Mishel. “New York City’s building trades unions are effectively using apprenticeship programs and collective bargaining to provide job opportunities to minorities and to close racial and ethnic wage gaps. It is appropriate for people to update their views to note that a majority of union construction workers in New York City are now people of color.”