Two hundred Milwaukee fast food workers are set to go on strike, demanding a pay increase to $15/hr and the right to unionize.

As COLORLINES points, Milwaukee has lost unionized manufacturing jobs at a dramatic rate in recent decades, leading to significant growth in low-wage jobs.

African Americans have been hit especially hard by this shift.


“Milwaukee has a really special history particularly for African Americans,” said Jennifer Epps of the group Wisconsin Citizen Action, which helped organize the strikes. “We had the highest per capita income for black workers in the country, now we have one of the lowest.”

A report from the University of Milwaukee found that in 1970, over 54 percent of black men in the city were employed in factories, more than twice the percentage of whites. But, as Milwaukee’s Sentinel Journal reports, 100,000 jobs in Delco Electronics, Pabst Brewing Company and other factories left the city since 1980. By 2009, under 15 percent of black men held manufacturing these jobs, about equivalent to the percentage as white workers.

As these jobs disappeared, Milwaukee’s rate of black unemployment spiked. Before the recession, the city rivaled Buffalo, NY with the highest rates of black unemployment, according to a report from the University. And those who have found work are now far more likely to be relegated to non-union, minimum wage jobs. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development projects that food preparation and serving jobs, including those in fast food, will grow by 12 percent in the next decade, three times the rate of jobs overall.


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