Sunday, September 6, 2009

On Labor Day, Four Years After Katrina, New Orleans Workers Face Lower Pay and Discrimination

Tomorrow is Labor Day, a holiday that was popularized as a substitute for the more radical international worker’s rights commemorations on May First. On this Labor Day, four years after New Orleans was flooded, what is the state of worker’s rights in Louisiana?

In the days after the storm, virtually the entire staff of New Orleans’ public school system was fired. Not long after, the school board voted to officially cease recognition of their union – one of the largest and strongest in the city. In the months and years since, Black and Latino workers in the reconstruction of the city have been pitted against each other by some employers in a “race to the bottom,” where all working people lose.

Louisiana is one of 22 so-called “Right to Work” states. These state laws prohibit workplaces where all employees are part of a union. Studies have found that states with these laws – which effectively limit the power of workers to advocate for better pay and benefits – have salaries almost 15% less than states without these anti-union prohibitions.

Nationwide, about 12% of workers are in unions. In Louisiana, only 4.6% of workers had union representation in 2008, one of the lowest rates in the US. Nationwide, there has been a decline in union membership for almost three decades – a decline that has also caused a drop in average salaries for workers, and in health coverage. Workers with unions are nearly 50% more likely to have health insurance covered by their employer.

Louisiana Justice Institute stands with organizations like the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice in a fight for justice for all workers.

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