My local newspaper editor, as he does regularly, once again
attacked unions as the problem in America. This is the same editor who once
said �all the laziest goof-offs and goldbricks in the newsroom� where he began
his career were union officials -- and that the unionized New York Times
editorial writers are nothing more than �limousine liberals.�
For this most recent attack, two days after Thanksgiving, he
combined the economy with what he believes are greedy unions.
�[L]abor unions and their leaders are . . . distorting the
truth about the American workplace,� wrote the editor. First, he set up Andy
Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, who said that �Tens
of millions of Americans are working harder than ever just to stay afloat. The
latest Census Bureau report shows that wages are dropping and more people lack
health insurance . . . a greater percentage of the economy is going to profits
than to wages.�
Then he cut apart Stern�s statement by gleefully citing data
from the pro-business pro-management U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber said
that wages, adjusted for inflation, for workers rose 30 percent from 1967 to
2007. Now, 30 percent seems good -- unless you do the math. That�s about
three-quarters of one percent per year, far less than any executive
compensation. The editor then added in about 30 percent for benefits. Of
course, these benefits also include federally-mandated deductions, like Social
Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes.
As an afterthought, the editor claimed the �poverty rate
dropped from 22.4 percent in 1959 to 12.5 percent in 2007,� mysteriously trying
to connect a reduced poverty level with reduced union influence. What he didn�t
point out was that 1959 was a recession year, and that between 2000 and 2007,
according to the Census Bureau, the poverty rate actually increased from 11.3
percent to 12.5 percent. About 37.3 million Americans are living below the
federal poverty level; about 40 percent of all Americans fell beneath the
poverty line at least once in the past decade.
Sounding the alarm, the editor tied together Democrats and
unions. �[T]he plight of the American worker will grow more dire in the new
year, as Democrats push to pass their legislation. . . . The danger is that
their union-friendly legislation will hurt rather than help the American
economy.� To wrap everything up, the editor of a newspaper with the median
circulation of all dailies in America concluded by asking his readers to �consider
the current state of the once mighty American auto industry, and ask yourself:
What role did the powerful United Auto Workers play in its downfall?�
It�s the workers -- and those pesky liberal Democrats -- whom
the editor blames for America�s economic crises. Unfortunately, this editor isn�t
alone in his contempt for the workers.
Dozens of columnists and TV pundits spread the myth that the
average autoworker at General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler earns $70 an hour -- about
$146,000 a year. That figure, supplied by executives at the Big Three, reflects
every cost associated with labor, including �legacy costs,� which are costs of
pensions and health benefits for retired workers. Thus, the automakers added up
every conceivable cost and divided it by hours worked (pensioners, of course,
don�t work) to get the inflated numbers. The reality is that the average UAW
member earns about $28 an hour, about $58,000 a year, according to the
impartial Center for Automotive Research. What the news media fail to report is
that the UAW made significant concessions over the years, including wage
cut-backs at Chrysler and a 2007 contract for all three automakers that created
a �second tier� wage level of $14.50�$16.23 per hour ($30,160�$33,758 per year,
still below U.S. average wage of $40.405, according to the Census Bureau),
reduced benefits, and a retirement plan now administered by the UAW not the Big
Others who attack organized labor claim that UAW workers
earn far more an hour than their counterparts at non-American non-unionized
auto manufacturers in the U.S., and that�s a reason why the Big Three are
failing. However, the reality is that the average wage at the international
automakers is estimated at $24�$25 an hour, less than a $3 differential an hour
for UAW first tier workers, according to Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.
Even the most casual observer understands that it costs more to live in the
Detroit area than the rural areas where foreign automakers established their
In contrast to the concessions given up by the workers, Big
Three executives still earn multi-million dollar incomes. Alan Mulally at Ford
earned $2 million last year, plus additional compensation totaling about $21.7
million, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Ford lost $2.72
billion last year. At GM, Rick Wagoner earned $15.7 million last year,
according to the Wall Street Journal, while his company lost $38.7 billion.
Chrysler�s Robert Nardelli earned $1 in salary last year, but has a significant
compensation package that is not publicly disclosed. Chrysler lost about $2.9
billion last year.
But, much of the media and the American public still blame
workers and liberal Democrats who are favorable to the union movement for the
economic crisis that led the Big Three to rev up their corporate jets and
descend upon Congress to beg for a $25 billion taxpayer-funded bailout.
Are the workers and those liberal Democrats to blame for car
sales being down 45 percent in October for GM, 35 percent for Chrysler, and 30
percent for Ford from a year ago?
Are they to blame for the auto industry going for the quick
profit by pushing gas-guzzling minivans, SUVs, and trucks, while foreign
automakers began looking at more energy-efficient cars?
Are they to blame that demand for autos has fallen off
because Americans were unable to get financing in an economic crisis caused by
greed of investment companies, banks, and almost every corporation that issues
Are they to blame for the auto industry executives opposing
public transportation and alternative energy cars?
Are they to blame for auto executives being wrong about just
about everything and for spending too much on everything from golf club
memberships to private jets?
Are they to blame for the 100,000 factory layoffs in the
past three years that also meant more work and no pay increases for every
remaining factory worker?
Are they to blame for the auto industry outsourcing its work
to countries where labor is paid pennies an hour -- and then reaping huge
profits by downsizing America�s workforce?
Are the workers and liberals to blame for the auto industry
cutting health care and retirement benefits in order to maximize profits?
Finally, are the workers and those liberal Democrats to
blame because Big Three executives failed to understand that they needed to cut
corporate costs when maximizing profits so they could reduce their losses
during a recession or for when their own bad business
judgments would cause a catastrophic meltdown?
It may be in the best self-interest of non-unionized media
to perpetuate the myth that the economic problems of America are because of the
worker. However, such sloppy and inaccurate reporting isn�t in the best
interest of the people.
Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University and president of the
Pennsylvania Press Club. He is senior author of the critically-acclaimed �The
Press and the State,� and author of ��Unacceptable�: The Federal Response to
Hurricane Katrina� (January 2006) and �Sinking the Ship of State: The
Presidency of George W. Bush� (November 2007), available through amazon.com. You
may contact Brasch at email@example.com
or through his website at: www.walterbrasch.com.