Does union-busting affect women more than men?

Union supporters wait in Wisconsin earlier this week. Photo: Scott Olson/GettyUnion supporters wait in Wisconsin earlier this week. Photo: Scott Olson/GettyThe Wisconsin Assembly voted Friday to approve a budget bill that ended most of the collective-bargaining rights of public workers in that state. Republican governor Scott Walker's plan touched off nearly two weeks of demonstrations at the Wisconsin State Capitol by more than 60,000 union workers and union supporters and prompted lawmakers in other states to modify bills that would have impacted collective bargaining.

The bill passed the Assembly 51 to 17 in a vote that happened so quickly that many Democrats weren't even able to cast ballots, triggering chants of "Shame! Shame! Shame!"



The legislation still faces a vote in the state senate, where the absence of all 14 Democratic senators has stalled the process. A quorum of 20 is needed to vote on spending bills; the state's 19 Republicans need at least one Democrat to be present.

The debate has galvanized union workers across the country and prompted change in other states: Pending bills banning collective bargaining have been modified in Ohio, the Republican governor in Michigan offered to negotiate with public employees in order to avoid political gridlock, and Indiana's governor has asked GOP lawmakers to abandon a "right to work" bill that would have made it a misdemeanor for employers to require workers to be in a union. But, given the changing face of unions in general and the fact that many of the job losses during the recession hit fields that are male-dominated, are women more at risk from union-busting legislation now than men?

"We've seen a big increase over the last quarter century of women in unions, particularly as the unionization of the service sector expands," said John Schmitt, Senior Economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. "The perception that unions are great for white guys in their 50s is false. We've compiled reports on African Americans, Latinos, young people, and most recently on women to try and emphasize the widespread benefits of unions on non-traditional constituencies. The fastest growth in union membership is among Latinos, and there's a bigger share of African Americans in unions than in the workforce as a whole. There's a lot of change in the movement."

In his study, "Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers," Schmitt notes that, in 2007, 45 percent of all union members were female, up from 35 percent in 1983. Women in unions were more likely to have health insurance and pensions than those who were not unionized, he points out. And, according to data from the Shriver Report, "nearly 4 in 10 mothers (39.3 percent) are primary breadwinners, bringing home the majority of the family's earnings, and nearly two-thirds (62.8 percent) are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, bringing home at least a quarter of the family's earnings." There's a lot at stake if a woman's earning power is diminished.

While many critics blame unions for outsourcing issues-"They argue for higher wages, more benefits, more regulations that suffocate a business and make it harder to compete in this country," wrote Eric Ingemunson at RedCountry.com-it's unlikely that union-protected jobs traditionally held by women (like those in teaching (80 percent female), nursing (95 percent female), and service industries like food prep and cleaning) would be outsourced to India or anywhere else. So what's to be gained by weakening them?

Are you (or have you been) part of a union? What do you think: Are women at bigger risk than men when it comes to union-busting measures?

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