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40 Years Later: TN Labor Unions Helping Fulfill MLK's Dream

April 4, 2008

Memphis, TN - On April 3, 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on a balcony in Memphis, speaking in support of the city's striking sanitation workers, and asked America to be fair and honest to working people of all races. Forty years ago today, he was shot and killed.

Now, a new study finds that unions have helped make progress toward workplace equality over the last four decades, and it says African-American union members actually fare better than the rest of the working public.

David Dyssegaard Kallick, a senior fellow with the Fiscal Policy Institute, which partnered with the Center for Economic and Policy Research to conduct the study, says King supported workers' rights to organize because unions stand for the dignity of workers.

"What he said was, all labor has dignity. You're reminding not only Memphis but you're reminding the nation that it's a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages."

The study found that 76 percent of unionized black workers have employer-sponsored health insurance and 66 percent have pension benefits.

Kallick says some believe the immigrant workforce is undercutting labor unions, but the key is to organize across all lines. And, he says, in the end, even big business wins.

"Rather than just looking to pay the lowest wages and cut costs, it forces them to look at how to increase productivity, how to make sure they're really investing in workers."

The report is at

Deborah Smith/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - TN