Why people don’t like unions, Part I

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.

References:
Link to the Gallup stats:
http://www.gallup.com/poll/122744/Labor-Unions-Sharp-Slide-Public-Support.aspx

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:
http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/6759/
http://epi.3cdn.net/9e237c56096a8e4904_rkm6b9hn1.pdf

Other information:
To see how both sides are stretching the truth, check out the Truth-O-Meters from PolitiFact.
http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/

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:
http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/union2.pdf

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8 thoughts on “Why people don’t like unions, Part I

  1. My 401K is not guaranteed. A union member’s pension is.

    My 401K is not paid for by union workers. A public union worker’s pension IS paid for by tax payers, including me.

    Do your numbers include pension payments?

    I believe the comment you chose to address about union bosses was directed at the Andy Stern/Richard Trumpka types, not the average protester in Madison, but that’s just my opinion.

    Are you comparing the 59 percent of public workers holding four year college degrees with 30 percent of private employees holding the same or similar jobs? (Or are we including the entire private sector — fast food chains, grocery store workers, coffee baristas, etc.) Don’t know of many government run fast food chains (yet).

    Also does the 30 percent of private workers include any union workers? Certainly many unions are private — plumbers, electricians, etc. I’m not sure where the United Auto Workers fall nowadays — public or private?

    Regardless, your premise is based on unions in general and then you hone in on public unions because of Wisconsin, but discussing public employees versus private employees kind of muddies up the original union-based premise, so… I could ask if the private employees are making more on average than the public employees BECAUSE of the private unions, couldn’t I?

    I disagree with your basic premise — that union members are making more than they’re worth. I believe some are, like those teachers who basically show up for work and sit in detention all day because they have been accused of something serious and are on probation because the union will not allow the school to fire the accused.
    BUT
    I also believe that many teachers are making less than they are worth. Students and parents tend to know which are the most effective teachers and which ones are not, but it’s basically “luck of the draw” on which kids get which teachers in public school. I believe the best teachers should be paid more than the weak ones, and the bad ones should be fired. Unfortunately both the cream and the crap rise to the top in the public schools.

    “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.”
    — The folks holding the nasty “Governor Hitler” signs and protesting their potential (pending a vote by the people elected by the state of Wisconsin) increased contribution to their own pension and benefits package and loss of bargaining power (because collective bargaining is NOT a right) are funded by the private sector workers.

    Side note: The pending vote would NOT take away the union’s collective bargaining power with regard to wages, only benefits and pensions. Rarely mentioned when folks raise the “loss of collective bargaining rights” argument.

    Finally…
    I do not believe that “we need more Scott Walkers” qualifies as a nasty comment.

    But you do?

    • Yes, a union member’s pension is more or less guaranteed barring government raids, which Wisconsin has a history of. Your point is…? Are you saying I don’t deserve a secure retirement? That I can only have as many benefits as you have? We should all have the same benefits?
      And yes, taxpayers pay for state pensions because taxpayers are the employers of teachers and other public workers. We work for you, educating your children and cleaning your streets and running your government. Again, I don’t see the problem.
      Yes, the study numbers included pension payments in the totals used to create the final percentages.
      And yes, I believe the one online comment referred to heads of a private union, but that’s my point: people don’t know enough about unions to distinguish among them and make such comments out of ignorance.
      Regarding the comparisons in the study, it’s true that there are few public fast-food workers or private teachers, making comparisons difficult. Here’s what the study’s author writes: “Comparisons [were made] controlling for education, experience, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, and disability…While we ideally would compare public sector workers with private sector workers performing similar work, it is not possible to find private sector matches for the entire spectrum of public employees. Too many critical occupations in the public sector—for example, police, fire, and corrections— lack private sector analogues. Even public and private teaching differ significantly. Public schools accept all students, while private schools are sometimes highly selective and may exclude or remove poor per- forming, special needs, or disruptive students.
      Consequently, comparing workers of similar “human capital” (fundamental personal characteristics and labor market skills) is considered the best alternative. Analyses based on comparisons of personal characteristics and labor market skills capture what comparable work studies have shown to be the most important and salient attributes affecting compensation.” The study refers to various jobs from those held by workers with only a high school diploma to doctors and lawyers.
      The comment about the issue of union status in the study is an excellent one. The study says, “Union status was omitted from this study on earnings comparisons. This means that, in essence, we are statistically comparing unionized public sector workers with all private sector workers—both union and nonunion— rather than with their union counterparts.” It adds something surprising: “56% of public workers are covered by a labor agreement.” So not ALL the public workers in the study were even in a union, while some of the private workers were. It also refers to the the idea that other studies have proven that unions don’t lead to excessive compensation. It lists those studies, but I haven’t been able to find them yet.
      The reference you made to teachers sitting in detention probably is an allusion to the New York teachers who have an elaborate system for appealing dismissals. My union’s contract and the contracts of the other teachers I know don’t allow for that, but it’s true that those events are happening in some areas.
      The issue of merit pay in education is tough. Do you pay by test scores? Student ratings? Who decides? How do you implement it? I’ve seen several interesting stories on the issue. I’d love to see someone develop a fair merit-based pay system for teachers, but with so many variables, I don’t see how it could work.
      I marched in Madison and saw only four of maybe 400 signs (for several thousand protestors) with references to Walker being a dictator or tyrant. True, on the day when 60,000 showed up, using that same percentage, larger groups of such signs could probably be seen. But do you think that if you attended a rally with 60,000 people supporting a cause you believed in, you wouldn’t see any signs with hyperbole or emotional rhetoric?
      “We need more Scott Walkers” was presented as an anti-union comment, which it clearly was in the context of being posted on a story detailing the anti-union provisions of Walker’s bill. It was not intended to be one of the “nasty” comments – I meant the other two, but I can see where the reference was unclear and apologize for the confusion.

      • Thanks for the reply. I will try to be brief, since both of our responses were so lengthy.

        “Yes, a union member’s pension is more or less guaranteed barring government raids, which Wisconsin has a history of. Your point is…?”

        My point was that in a discussion about what is fair or not fair when it comes to retirement benefiits for union versus non-union workers, the elimination of “guaranteed” pensions would not be unfair.

        “Are you saying I don’t deserve a secure retirement?”

        Absolutely not. But I am saying that it would be fair for unionized workers to bear the same responsibility as non-union workers in securing that retirement. Instead of a guaranteed pension of your final year’s salary (for example) every year, it would be fair for you to contribute a portion of your salary while you work towards your own retirement in investments you judge to be secure.

        “That I can only have as many benefits as you have?”

        I hadn’t thought about this, but it does bring up the question of whether it is fair for an individual who receives their benefits from tax payers to be awarded better benefits than those tax payers who fund it. What are your thoughts?

        “We should all have the same benefits?”

        No. I wasn’t saying that. Younger workers just entering the work force do not have the same health concerns as older workers. Men and women have different health needs.

        “…taxpayers are the employers of teachers and other public workers. We work for you.”

        And the tax payers of Wisconsin elected the current crop of politicians to address the budget woes of your state. You are now protesting against your employer.

        Since the tax payers are your employers, is it wrong for those “making nasty comments” — whether they are making more money than you or not — to criticize? I mean, I hate to see people be nasty and I do not condone it, but is it wrong for them to criticize?

        Much of your comment (and my original reply to your post) talked about the data concerning union versus non-union jobs and compensation. You did a great job in providing answers to my questions and I think we both agree that the data can never show us a true apples-to-apples comparison.

        Many members of public unions, for example, also work jobs in the private sector. A public school teacher who gets three months of summer vacation could also be a waiter or writer or carpenter or have a home-based business. Or they could own a rental property on the beach or sell advertising or… endless possibilities.

        Regardless, that public school teacher could be contributing data to both sides. The “data” for someone like that is tough to capture. The question is, do you take the salary of someone working nine months as a teacher and compute the equivalent salary as if it were over 12 months? ( because I doubt anyone has the ability to keep track of all of the data for the folks working two jobs and splitting out their private income versus their public income, so to speak. What a nightmare!)

        As for merit pay, it is tricky but it is not impossible. If bad teachers could be fired that would help. If I knew a school had fired all of its bad teachers, kept the good ones and I was afforded the ability to send my kid to that school — I would look into it.

        It would be great if schools had to compete to secure the services of truly great teachers! Their salaries would increase as schools basically bid on their services and parents would clamor (i.e. be willing to pay more) to get their kids enrolled in those schools serious about employing only the best teachers. THIS IS POSSIBLE — maybe not how the system is currently set up, but changes in this direction would be welcomed, I believe.

      • I will be addressing the issue of guaranteed pensions – which the private sector used to have as well – in a future post, but for now I can post the article from Forbes that characterizes our pensions as deferred income, so we are being guaranteed our own money back:
        http://blogs.forbes.com/rickungar/2011/02/25/the-wisconsin-lie-exposed-taxpayers-actually-contribute-nothing-to-public-employee-pensions/

        And I do NOT work for Scott Walker. I’m a Wisconsin taxpayer. He works for ME! And I want to fire him.

        My employer is Gateway Technical College, an institution that operates on local and state tax dollars as well as student tuition and fees. My boss (an administrator, not a union member) sent a supportive e-mail to instructors that read in part, “It is important to know that your service is core to our mission and success. When the debate has passed, Gateway will continue to provide high quality education opportunities for our community. …It will be up to us (all of us) to address these new challenges with the spirit of collaboration, cooperation and respect for the valuable work that each of you provide in serving as a pathway of hope and success for our students.”

        That’s leadership and respect. Scott Walker hasn’t shown either.

        I think the public has a right to criticize teachers and unions, but most of the criticism I’ve seen is invalid. There are plenty of legitimate problems with teachers’ unions that the public should be outraged about. But except for the rare story about extreme cases like the rubber rooms, I don’t see many people criticizing teachers based on facts.

        I think parents deserve to have the best teachers for their children, and if someone develops a merit pay system with that result, I’ll support it. But I think the public will probably end up paying even more money.

  2. I hope you do not think I said anything close to “you work for Scott Walker”. In my statement, “You are now protesting against your employer,” the tax payer was the employer, not the elected politicians.

    As a tax payer, Walker does work for you and many other folks. You get to register your desire to fire him by voting for his opponent during the next election.

    The message from your employer was fantastic.

    As far as criticizing teachers — I don’t see that as the issue in Wisconsin. The issue is the state budget.

    Yes, I replied to your blog post titled, “Why people don’t like unions,” and I would expect most of the conversation on a post titled as such would focus on the reasons paople like or dislike unions, but I don’t think this whole Wisconsin thing was caused by people not liking unions.

    I do believe it will contribute to more people disliking unions, however.

    I also believe that the teachers who skipped out on classes and accepted fake doctors notes deserve criticism. I feel the teachers carrying offensive signs deserve criticism. If any of the folks engaging in thugery are teachers, they deserve criticism.

    But all of those criticisms would be of the individuals, regardless what their job title is.

    I’ve heard lots of criticisms of unions, many with which I agree.

    I believe Scott Walker has shown leadership. We can disagree about this.

    I also believe Scott Walker has shown respect. We can disagree about that as well.

  3. Gday, every time I look to this specific homepage I almost consistently get this error message 400 Internal Server Error; Just imagined you would like to know.

  4. Well , OK all of them that “THINK” that UNION’S ARE BAD OR NO GOOD! #1. IF YOU LOOK AT YOUR HISTORY ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE GOT PAID BEFORE UNIONS STARTED COME UP, YOU’D STILL HAVE STORE OWNED BY THE OWNER YOU WORK FOR AN EVERY THING YOU COULD GET. SO IS THAT THE WAY YOU THINK? HERE IT IS IN A NUT SHELL. UNION ARE MADE SO THAT YOU CAN HAVE A FAIR WAGE. WE THE UNION BUILD SCHOOLS TO TEACH OUR UNION, DOES NONUNION ? NO! WE THE OLDER UNION WORKERS, WORKED DURING THE DAY , AND WENT TO SCHOOL AT NIGHT,AN OUR TEACHER WHERE WORKERS TOO! WE THE UNION PEOPLE SAID ENOUGH, WE ARE GOING TO GIVE OUR NEW COMING UP PEOPLE A BETTER WAT OF LEARNING. WE BOUGHT LAND, BUILT SCHOOLS AN GAVE OUR NEW PEOPLE THAT JOIN THE UNION A BETTER WAY OF LEARNING BY THEM GOING TO SCHOOL ONE WEEK PRE CLASS. THEY DON’T HAVE TO DO A WORK , SO THEY LEAN BETTER. DOES NONUNION DO THAT? NO! WE THE UNION PEOPLE HELP SET IT SO YOU NONUNION ALSO GET A BETTER WAGE. HOW/ BY USING OUR WAGE THE MIN. WAGE WAS SET, AN OTHER WAGES ALSO, YOU ALL THAT SAY UNION IS JUST FAT, YOU ARE SO WRONG, AN WE MAKE TO MUCH MONEY! IF IT WE GOT PAID WHAT WE REALLY SHOULD IR WOULD KNOCK YOUR SHORTS OFF. WE ONLY ASK FOR A FAIR WAGE AN PACKAGE TO PROVIDE FOR OUR FAMILY’S AN YOU ALL GET A STANDARD WAGE FOR YOU EMPLOYERS TO GO BY! DID YOU KNOW OUR UNION PEOPLE YEARS AGO HAD TO STAND AN GET THE POOP BEAT OUT OF THEM WITH BAT’S , PIPES, CHAINS, AN SOME KILLED WITH GUN’S BECAUSE THE THE EMPLOYERS DIDN’T WANT TO GET UP THERE FAT BANK ROLLS BETTER FOR YOU BE HAPPY WITH PENNY’S , WHILE THEY REAPED THE BIG CASH, YOU SHOULD BE HAPPY THAT THE UNION IS HERE OR YOU COULD BE LIKE THE OTHER COUNTRY’S THAT GET PAID WITH A RICE BOWL OF RICE, AN HAVE TO LIVE IN A HOUSE SO SMALL WITH TO MANY PEOPLE IN IT. AND THERE CHANCE OF GETTING A BETTER LIFE IS SLIM AN NONE. KIND OF LIKE WHEN YOUR FATHER WAS A SURF , YOU ALSO WOULD BE ONE AN ON AN ON! SO STOP AN LOOK AT WHAT THE UNION HAS DONE FOR ALL YOU NONUNION PEOPLE THAT TALK BULL POOP AN ARE LIKE MUSHROOM’S , KEEP YOU IN THE DARK AN FEED YOU POOP! SO NEXT TIME YOU SEE AN UNION PERSON OR UNION JOB SITE, “BE THANKFUL WE ARE HERE”. OH THE ONE’S THAT SAY THAT THE UNION IS KILL THIS COUNTRY, WELL TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT WHAT THERE BACK GROUND IS. MAYBE THERE A EMPLOYER AN DON’T LIKE SHARING THE WEALTH OR WHAT YOUR HARD WORK IS DOING TO MAKE THEM THE FAT ONE’S. EVER LOOK AT IT THAT WAY? NO YOU DON’T. IT IS TO EASY TO PUT DOWN SOME ONE THAN OR THING, THAN TO STOP AN LOOK AT WHAT THAT THING OR SOME ONE HAS DONE FOR YOU AN YOU DIDN’T EVEN KNOW IT! NOW CAN YOU LAUGH AT YOUR SELF JUST A BIT, BECAUSE IT IS A LITTLE FUNNY WHEN SOME PEOPLE GET YOU TO BE LEAVE SOMETHING THAT IS NOT TRUE. SO LAUGH, KNOW NOW THAT YOU GOT TO SEE THE OTHER THINGS THEM OR THEY WHAT EVER WORD YOU WANT TO USE, DID NOT TELL YOU THE WHOLE TRUTH OR THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN! I HOPE FROM NOW ON, YOU WILL STOP AN LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE AN NOT JUST THE FRAME. ONE MORE TELL OUR COUNTRY TO STOP LETTING COMPANY’S SEND WORK AN JOB OUT OF OUR COUNTRY, THERE THE ONES THAT ARE KILLING THIS COUNTRY. WE CAN AN HAVE ALWAYS DONE THE BEST, MADE THE BEST AN KNOW OTHER COUNTRY HAS DONE WHAT WE HAVE. WHAT YOU ASK? WE TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN, AN WE ALSO ARE FIRST TO SHOW UP TO OTHER COUNTRY’S THAT NEED HELP, WITH OPEN ARMS, OPEN HANDS, WHAT OTHER COUNTRY CAN SAY THAT, COME ON I WANT TO HERE THAT FROM THE BIG MOUTH NONUNION PEOPLE THAT PUT DOWN AMERICAN UNION’S ! WE ARE THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AN WE ARE UNITED UNION OF AMERICA! GOD BLESS THE UNION AN AMERICA. GRADY LOUIS RANDLEMAN JR. UNION MEMBER LOCAL 713 HAYWARD, CA.

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