By: Ashley Laken, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Recognizing the rise of Millennials and the increasing diversity of the workforce, some labor unions appear to be taking a keen interest in increasing the diversity of those in their leadership ranks, which is at least in part a key organizing tactic.

As part of Seyfarth’s FutureEmployer initiative, we’ve been taking a look at how the changing makeup of the workforce is and might be affecting union organizing activity, and what employers can and should do in response. One key change in the workforce is the rise in Millennials: it’s estimated that by 2025, they will make up 75% of the workforce. And they’re also the most diverse adult generation to date. But interestingly, even though they appear to have relatively favorable views of organized labor, many of them have not fallen prey to union organizing. At least not yet.

Unions appear to be cluing in to this, and they’re responding accordingly. In a recent article published in Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, Maria Somma, the first Asian organizing director for the United Steelworkers, was quoted as saying “There’s a saying within the labor movement: male, pale, and stale . . . that has been our union. But that’s not who our union is now. It’s also not who our movement is going to be.” Union leaders were also quoted as saying that if the union movement is going to survive and thrive, unions have to establish mentorship opportunities to groom young, minority members to take over.

And at least some unions appear to be putting their money where their mouth is. For example, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades currently has its first black president, and it also has three women of color who are under the age of 35 leading its strategic organizing division. Similarly, the American Federation of School Administrators currently has its first black female president, the SEIU is currently led by its first female president, and the National Education Association is currently led by its first Latina president. The BNA article also reported that according to the AFL-CIO, approximately 47% of the delegates at its recent convention were women or people of color, and 7 of its more than 50 affiliate unions are led by women. And not surprisingly, diversity was a major topic of discussion throughout the AFL-CIO’s recent convention.

Given that it looks like union leadership is starting to recognize this demographic shift in the workforce and is promoting younger, more diverse individuals into leadership positions in response, it might be wise for employers to ask themselves if they should be doing the same within their own leadership ranks, both as a union avoidance strategy and as good business practice.