Toronto Star

Non-white immigrants see wage gap

Study finds landing a union job doesn’t guarantee equality


A unionized workplace helps raise the initial earnings of visible-minority immigrants, but the income gap between them and white immigrants persists even with union membership, according to a new study. Although union membership rises among all immigrants the longer they’ve been in Canada, white immigrants land union jobs at a much faster rate — even surpassing Canadians who are nativeborn.

And “non-white recent immigrants gain access to unionized jobs at a slower rate than do white recent immigrants,” says the study, Unionizati­on and Income Growth of Racial Minority Immigrants in Canada, to be published in the Internatio­nal Migration Review.

“Unionizati­on does not contribute to reducing the earnings gap of non-white recent immigrants relative to white immigrants and the native-born,” the research found.

“Unions themselves have a lot more to do to make sure diversity and racial equity concerns are integrated in what they do.” CHRIS ROBERTS SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC POLICY DIRECTOR OF THE CANADIAN LABOUR CONGRESS

The unique joint study, by the University of Toronto and Ryerson University researcher­s, raises the question: Why do visible-minority immigrants benefit less from unionized jobs? It points to the need to probe how race plays a role in access to promotions and career advancemen­t even in union workplaces.

Based on government data, the study found that, in the base year studied, 38 per cent of native-born white Canadians worked under a collective agreement, but only17 per cent of visible-minority recent immigrants and 22 per cent of white recent immigrants were part of a union.

Over time, the unionizati­on rate of native-born whites remains at about 37 per cent. The rate for white newcomers increases to 30 per cent, but the rate for visible-minority immigrants remains low, at 23 per cent.

Researcher­s had hypothesiz­ed that immigrants’ access to unionized jobs would help narrow the income gap, because unions, as socially progressiv­e institutio­ns, operate by the principles of equality, equity and fairness at workplaces.

To their surprise, being part of a union didn’t seem to equalize earnings.

According to the study, being part of a union boosts the average initial income for native-born whites from $30,712 to $39,983; for white immigrants from $24,999 to $32,417; and for racialized immigrants from $21,884 to $26,919.

After six years, unionized native-born whites earn an average of $42,000 a year, compared with $46,000 for white immigrants and only $32,000 for visible minority immigrants.

“A racial gap in unionizati­on persists over time, and this contribute­s to the relative disadvanta­ge of visible-minority immigrants in the labour market,” the study said.

Lead author Anil Verma, a professor at the Rotman School of Management, said it’s important to note that employers are responsibl­e for hiring and promotions and that access to union jobs for immigrants and minorities is not within a union’s control.

He believes the different earnings growth for various groups has something to do with whether individual­s engage in job hopping to improve their income.

“If someone faces underemplo­yment or has difficulty in finding a first job, the person would likely stay with the same employer and the initial earning disadvanta­ge will stay with you,” said Verma, who did the research with professor Jeffrey Reitz of the Munk Centre for Internatio­nal Studies and Ryerson business management professor Rupa Banerjee.

“People do better by job hopping. It is a risk-taking behaviour. Immigrants, especially visible minorities, could be more risk-averse, because it is more difficult for them to get a job and they don’t job hop as much.”

Chris Roberts, social and economic policy director of the Canadian Labour Congress, said the study raises a “serious” issue.

“Unions themselves have a lot more to do to make sure diversity and racial equity concerns are integrated in what they do,” he said. “We need to ensure unions are speaking to workers with diverse experience­s.”

Verma said most of Canada’s labour market growth is now coming from immigratio­n, particular­ly from the “global south,” and unionizati­on will be a key factor in bringing newcomers’ wages to parity with Canadians.

In addition to union membership, he said, unions can help improve access to education and higher-paying jobs to narrow those gaps.

Naveen Mehta, general counsel and director of human rights, equity and diversity of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, points out that who gets hired and promoted is in the hands of employers. However, unions need to reflect on the diversity, not only in their membership, but also in their staffing and leadership.

“Having more racialized people is one way to do it, but we really need to see the true value of diversity and understand it,” said Mehta, whose union is set to launch a three-year diversity training initiative for its 800 staff in 2015.

 ??  ?? Naveen Mehta of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada says unions need to reflect on the diversity in their staffing.
Naveen Mehta of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada says unions need to reflect on the diversity in their staffing.

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