Union apprenticeships have more success promoting racial, gender diversity, study finds

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Registered apprenticeship programs conducted in partnership with a union register more Black, Latino and women workers than their non-union equivalents, according to a first-of-its-kind study out Tuesday.

The research, provided first to POLITICO, was commissioned by the North America's Building Trades Union and conducted by the independent Institute for Construction Economics Research. It analyzed 21 years of data between 1999 and 2019 on construction apprenticeships in 34 states.

"We always have our detractors; there's lots of people out there who think that this is a stale, male, white occupation," NABTU President Sean McGarvey said. "We were a little afraid [of what the study would find] — but it turned out pretty good."

Women made up 4.8 percent of all union apprenticeship registrations in 2019, compared with 2.4 percent of non-union apprenticeship registrants. The same year, Black and Latino workers made up 9.6 percent and 29.4 percent of all union apprenticeship registrations, respectively, compared with 7.9 percent and 22.5 percent.

"We could have room for improvement" — but "when it comes to, you know, our competition, the open shop, the non union, industry, we blow them away when it comes to this diversity work," McGarvey said.

Overall, union apprenticeships accounted for about 75 percent of all programs. This peaked at 80 percent during the Great Recession and bottomed out at 67 percent shortly after.

The study will help unions make the case for helping staff projects funded by the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Congress passed more than a year ago. In enacting it, lawmakers pledged it would advance racial and gender equity by diversifying construction and other related sectors.

"With the work that the administration and the Congress has done over the last couple of years, we have a phenomenal amount of opportunities for the next 10 to 15 years to lift tens of thousands of people ... into the middle class through our apprenticeship readiness programs and then our registered apprenticeship programs," McGarvey said. "We've got to work a little harder and dig a little deeper to attract the kind of people that are looking for these opportunities."