Labor movement turns to social activism to attract millennials

Police shootings, LGBT rights and immigration issues often are not associated with the traditional American labor movement.

But for Paul Nappier, a 30 year-old organizer for the Service Employees International Union Local 1 in Indianapolis, these are the issues that affect his members.

Many local members have undocumented family members, friends who have been killed by police and many themselves live in poverty, he says in a dusty union hall on West Washington Street.

That is why Nappier and several other millennial Indianapolis labor leaders rally and protest for activist causes that have little to do with workplace conditions.

“People, especially younger people today, are completely dissatisfied with the income disparities and racism we’ve inherited,” Nappier said, adding that “for too long, organized labor has ignored these issues.”

Only recently have large international unions come to terms with issues of racism and sexism. In February 2015, the AFL-CIO created a new Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice to examine racial issues within labor.

 Nappier says the need for change within the labor movement to address social justice issues is pressing, especially as union ranks are increasingly thin and more diverse. Nationally, union membership has declined by 2.9 million since 1983. The percentage of the workforce belonging unions dropped to 11.1 percent in 2015 from 20.1 percent in 1983.

 

Today, the membership of SEIU Local 1, for instance, is 30 percent immigrants, many of them women, Nappier said.

 

And the data show that there is an untapped segment of workers for the service industry union. In the service industry, black workers comprise 20.5 percent of all combined food-preparation and serving workers, while Hispanics are 18.7 percent of those workers, according to a 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Additionally, in 2015, millennials surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce, according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Nappier said his next challenge is getting more younger people signed up for union membership.

While millennials (people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s) hold a much more favorable view of labor unions than do older Americans — statistics show that they are the least likely age group to be union members.

Marquita Walker, a labor studies professor at Indiana University, says that may be because unions were traditionally exclusionary to women and people of color.

“And there is still a great deal of bias in promoting these people to leaders in the movement,” she said.

Be sure to check out the full video over at The Indy Star!

Comments are closed.