Unions lead the way in closing the wage gap for people of color

Workers with union wages and benefits earn enough money to support their families, invest in their homes and neighborhoods, spend money in their communities, and provide opportunities for their children. 

Workers, especially people of color, are having an increasingly difficult time achieving that American dream. It is becoming the American wish. Housing and health costs in Massachusetts continue to skyrocket, and workers without union representation have seen their wages stagnate. 

The Massachusetts Building Trades Council and its operating engineers, roofers, iron and sheet metal workers, painters, plumbers and other construction-related professionals are actively involved in creating pathways for greater equity and inclusion. 

To keep growing and thriving as a state, we need a strong middle class. That means expanding the number of good-paying union jobs with clear advancement opportunities and benefits. The Union Trades already guarantee equal pay for equal work and have been leading the way in closing the racial pay gap through fair collective bargaining agreements.

Being a member of a union makes a real bottom-line difference for workers of color. Black union workers, for example, earn 16.4 percent higher wages than their non-union counterparts. We’re also 17.4 percent more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and 18.3 percent more likely to have employer-sponsored retirement security.

Collective bargaining ensures that everyone doing the same job gets paid the same amount. That’s a key reason why we want to make sure that every young person who wants a job in the union building trades has an opportunity to get one. The stakes are high. As a state, we need to continue reducing inequality in order to thrive. 

The building trades unions take our role in expanding inclusiveness and reducing inequity seriously. We envision, and we will continue to pursue, making Massachusetts a state where every city and town, every demographic group, every race and every gender, can equally partake in the commonwealth’s economic success.

As a 2012 Building Pathways graduate, the co-writer of this article, Shamaiah Turner, knows first hand what a difference this opportunity can make. After completing her five-year apprenticeship in the Sheet Metal Workers Local 17 training program in 2017, she now has a successful career that she takes pride in, a job where her work is compensated fairly, allowing her to save toward buying a new home, and where she can effectively advocate for more inclusion of young workers of color across the state.  

With the building boom come many opportunities. For all the jobs that boom provides, we must all insist on employment equity and opportunity for people of color. As Martin Luther King said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Frank Callahan is president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council; Shamaiah Turner, a Dorchester resident, is a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 17.