Latinos in the United States represent nearly 18% of the workforce nationwide; however, they continue to face barriers in unstable and low-wage industries, according to a report published by the Labor Council for the Advancement of the Latin American Worker (LCLAA).
At an event in Washington on Tuesday, LCLAA detailed the importance of union organizations in “improving the lives of Latinos” through workplace protections, regardless of the immigration status of the worker.
17% of the more than 62.5 million Latinos living in the United States, according to the report, live below the poverty line, and 19.2% of them earn “poverty wages” in various industries.
“The most important thing is the wage disparity and that Latinos have access to unions, because if you’re part of a union, you have health care, you have pensions, you have security, and you have the opportunity to become middle-class and live in “the US like everyone else,” said Evelyn De Jesus, national president of LCLAA.
For De Jesús, the biggest challenge for Latinos is “lack of knowledge” and access to resources. “Many people sometimes come without documents, and they are afraid to ask, look, and find out. “So the purpose of this report is to say to the unions that they are not here to take our jobs, but they are here to work,” he added.
US unions have nearly 2.3 million Latinos as members. In other words, 8.8% of the total of all members of the union. Women represent 42.8% of these members.
Liz Schuler, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), emphasized that these numbers represent the “pain of inequality” that Latinos face and how “they continue to be overworked in the most unstable and lowest-paid industries… “in frontline and dangerous jobs.”
Protection for Latinos
The administration of President Joe Biden assured in October 2022 that it is “committed to ensuring more opportunities for Latino communities.” Among the efforts outlined is the Economic Rescue Plan (ARP), which promotes relief in areas such as unemployment, credit card delinquency rates, mortgage foreclosures, and child poverty among Latinos.
Other initiatives in 2021 saw Latino entrepreneurs start businesses “at the fastest pace in more than a decade and 23% faster than pre-pandemic levels,” according to the White House. In industries with a high Latino presence, the Department of Labor says they are taking actions such as increasing wages for agricultural workers, launching educational initiatives, and protecting Latino workers. from exposure to heat.
Protections are important, according to the LCLAA, because of, for example, workplace deaths.
Last year, 1,248 Latinos died while working, according to LCLAA, of which 64% were undocumented. The greatest risk lies in industries such as construction and agriculture.
These challenges are also rooted in the US immigration system, said Yanira Merino, immigration affairs coordinator for the Construction Workers Union of North America (LiUNA).
“We are an integral part of the country’s economy. We are in the most important sectors that support this economy. That was shown before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and after the pandemic. We are in education, health, construction, cleaning, and agriculture, which are the important axes of that economy,” said Merino in VOA.
The coordinator added that for Latino workers, it is important to highlight that “there are rights” even “if someone is undocumented or does not speak English.”
“Latino workers are important because we do not stop. During the pandemic, for example, there is always chicken, meat, and food on the table,” he said. VOA Alejandro Miranda, organizer of a union of workers in the food processing industry.
The LCLAA president highlighted the importance of Latino voters as part of the “social factory” of the US. Looking ahead to the November general election, there are nearly 1 million Latinos eligible to vote in the country. This represents a 16% increase in the Latino vote between 2018 and 2022.