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For people of color and women workers, the union impact is even greater.

Women workers who are union members earn nearly $9,000 a year more than their non-union counterparts. For African-American workers, the union differential is also about $9,000, and for Latino workers the yearly advantage is more than $11,000.

Union members have also been on the front lines of the fight for civil rights. Beyond raising wages and improving benefits, union representation bolsters protections against discrimination for women and people of color and gives them more tools to fight for equal opportunity. The added heft unions bring in challenging discrimination is critical: fair employment laws ban a panoply of practices that have the intention or effect of discriminating, but equal opportunity is not a self-enforcing promise. Vindicating non-discrimination rights requires workers to lodge charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and often, file suit against employers. Litigation is costly, time-consuming and intimidating, imposing burdens most workers, particularly low-wage earners, simply cannot bear. Union representation places equal opportunity more in reach for people of color and women.