A 2009 Gallup poll showed that only 48 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, the lowest percentage in the 65 years that Gallup has polled on the topic. The number slid 10 percent from the previous year.
As I read national news stories online about the protests in Madison over Scott Walker’s union-busting budget bill, I scrolled down to the comments from readers and found remarks like these (with their original spelling and punctuation):
“Hey teachers and Public employees, Here that noise? that’s the GRAVY TRAIN leaving the station.”
“we need more Scott Walkers”
“Does this mean that the UNION bosses will have to move out of their million dollar homes, sell their $350,000.00 yachts, their vacation homes, and $200,000.00 sports cars. @#$% they might have to get a real job.”
These remarks show the main reason people oppose unions: the misconception that union members are making more than they’re worth. Also, people fail to make any distinction among different unions, lumping them all together.
I don’t know much about private unions, but I suspect any “union bosses” being threatened with selling their yachts don’t lead a teachers’ union. I have yet to be invited to party on a teacher’s yacht.
So let’s focus on public unions, the targets of Scott Walker’s bill:
A study by Jeffrey H. Keefe for the Economic Policy Institute found that Wisconsin public workers make 4.8 percent less than workers in the private sector with comparable working hours.
However, the study found that the public workers have more education than the higher-earning private workers, with 59 percent of public workers holding a four-year college degree compared to 30 percent of private employees.
True, public workers earn more of their compensation in “nonwage” areas like insurance and retirement benefits than private workers.
But when all the benefits are converted to a monetary value, the fact remains: public workers are making 4.8 percent less than they would if they would dig out their resumes and move into the private sector.
That’s the overall average. The more education a public worker gets, the more the income gap widens, according to the report: “State and local workers with a bachelor’s degree make 28 percent less in salary and 25 percent less in total compensation, while those with a professional degree make 38 percent less in salary and 36 percent less in total compensation.”
So the private sector workers making nasty comments online are likely making more money than the public workers they are criticizing for protesting a loss of income and loss of bargaining rights.
Go ahead – ask any of the public workers protesting in Madison where they keep their yachts. They need a good laugh.
Link to the Gallup stats:
Jeffrey H. Keefe holds a doctorate from Cornell University and is an associate professor at Rutgers University. Links to his report summary and complete report:
To see how both sides are stretching the truth, check out the Truth-O-Meters from PolitiFact.
To learn more about who is represented by unions and the affect on salary, check out this news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: