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Looking at the State of Minnesota's Labor Unions

A new report details how Minnesota's labor unions affect the state economy and low-income workers. (Midwest Economic Policy Institute)
A new report details how Minnesota's labor unions affect the state economy and low-income workers. (Midwest Economic Policy Institute)
September 6, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. - On the heels of Labor Day, and as the Twin Cities continue to struggle with racial disparities, a new report details how Minnesota's labor unions are providing economic opportunities, especially for people of color.

The first-ever State of Minnesota Unions report shows that the number of people joining unions in the state has dropped by about 34,000 since 2006. But the research suggests that the good news is that unionization is helping close the racial income gap in Minnesota.

Frank Manzo, policy director for the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, and the report's co-author said unions are boosting the hourly earnings of nonwhite workers by more than 17 percent.

"Unions are an institution that have been correlated with reduced income inequality and lower poverty over time," he said. "And then as unionization has actually declined across the country, and even in Minnesota, we've seen that income inequality has actually risen and has actually grown."

Manzo argued that unions are one of Minnesota's best anti-poverty tools, because they increase individual incomes by lifting hourly wages, especially for low-income and middle-class employees.

But, the report also noted that the state's unions will continue to face both long- and short-term challenges. Manzo said these include a possible continued drop in union membership and so-called right-to-work laws.

"The stated purpose behind right-to-work laws is to boost employment," he added. "However, in practice, right-to-work laws reduce unionization, reduce worker wages and, through that mechanism, reduce consumer demand, which has negative impacts on employment."

He said unions play a vital role in Minnesota's economy. According to the report, in 2015 about 362,000 Minnesotans were union members.

The full report can be read here.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - MN