Desperate Times Call for Desperate Union Rhetoric
After losing the Battle of Wisconsin, union members flee in droves and frantic union apologists resort to melodrama.
Since losing the recall election in Wisconsin two weeks ago, it seems that there has been more than the usual lying, distortion and hyperbole coming from union bosses and their fellow travelers. Perhaps the most egregious example comes from Timothy Noah, a senior editor at the New Republic. In Praise of Public Employee Unions is so amazingly and transparently bad that it should be a prime example in a book on persuasive writing – about how not to make an argument. His main point is that the new school superintendent in Dallas is making $300,000 a year and that’s just too darn much. Maybe he’s right, but he has to distort the facts to make his point. He writes that teachers in Dallas, represented by the American Federation of Teachers, “bump along with an average salary of about $56,000. That’s nearly 20 percent below the average household income in the U.S. ($67,530).”
Please notice he is comparing a single teacher’s salary to average household income, which is the sum total made by all people living in the same house. He also doesn’t acknowledge that a teacher works only 180 days per year (about 25 percent less than the average worker) leaving the teacher plenty of time to work a second or summer job to enhance his or her income. He also doesn’t factor in that teachers have more generous health and pension benefits than those who work in the private sector.
An in-depth study from AEI/Heritage, released late last year sums up the situation well, finding that:
Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent. Teachers who change to non-teaching jobs, on the other hand, see their wages decrease by roughly 3 percent. This is the opposite of what one would expect if teachers were underpaid.
Most teachers accrue generous retiree health benefits as they work, but retiree health care is excluded from Bureau of Labor Statistics benefits data and thus frequently overlooked. While rarely offered in the private sector, retiree health coverage for teachers is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages.
Job security for teachers is considerably greater than in comparable professions. Using a model to calculate the welfare value of job security, we find that job security for typical teachers is worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.
We conclude that public-school teacher salaries are comparable to those paid to similarly skilled private sector workers, but that more generous fringe benefits for public-school teachers, including greater job security, make total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year.
In a final attempt to make his case, Noah careens into laughable hyperbole.
Being a teacher is back-breakingly difficult work. It is also extremely important work.
No, Mr. Noah, working in a coal mine is backbreaking. Tiling a roof is backbreaking. Teaching is certainly challenging and important work, but it is hardly backbreaking.
How do other public employees do compared to private sector workers? Via Reason, we learn that in Illinois, for example,
State workers from the metro-east averaged $61,372 last year.
How do these numbers stack up against pay for the rest of Illinois? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, per capita income for Illinois residents rang in at $28,782 in 2010. Median household income came to $55,735.
More hysteria from Steve Mikulan. In Unions: Our Last, Best and Final Hope, he is practically reduced to tears about labor union abandonment, especially by liberals. He writes,
…liberals – and even union members – seem to be abandoning and undermining labor. We only have to look at the dismal results of the Wisconsin recall election to see the evidence. There, National Public Radio and others report, exit polls revealed that 38 percent of union-household voters cast ballots to retain the state’s paranoiacally anti-labor governor, Scott Walker. Why this disconnect?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, while the private sector had a rapidly diminishing unionization rate of 6.9 percent, the public sector came in at a still healthy 37 percent. But whatever the numbers, Mikulan is right – the decline of unionization will continue as more and more workers realize that unions don’t have much to offer them. The 38 percent that voted for the “paranoiacally anti-labor governor” probably know that union hegemony wrecks economies – hence, no “disconnect.” Also, Mr. Mikulan, please keep in mind that in 27 of our 50 states and Washington D.C. workers have to pay a union if they want to be employed in many fields. If the unions are as beneficial as you say they are, why must they force workers to join them?
After the June 5th debacle, National Education Association Dennis Van Roekel took to TV and talk radio grousing about the loss.
These millionaire donors, empowered by the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, have made a mockery of democracy and nearly drowned out the voices of working families in Wisconsin.
Mockery of democracy? Drowning out voices? Mr. Van Roekel, your histrionics have been duly noted and you are dead wrong about Citizens United. As law professor Michael McConnell points out,
In a sense, Citizens United did have an important effect on the Wisconsin election. But the effect was almost exactly the opposite of what many pundits imply.
Labor unions poured money into the state to recall Mr. Walker. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the NEA (National Education Association), the nation’s largest teachers union, spent at least $1 million. Its smaller union rival, the AFT (American Federation of Teachers), spent an additional $350,000. Two other unions, the SEIU (Service Employees International Union, which has more than one million government workers) and Afscme (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), spent another $2 million. Little or none of these independent expenditures endorsing a candidate would have been legal under federal law before (the Supreme Court decision on) Citizens United.
By contrast, the large spenders on behalf of Mr. Walker were mostly individuals. According to the Center for Public Integrity, these included Diane Hendricks, Wisconsin’s wealthiest businesswoman, who spent over half a million dollars on his behalf; Bob J. Perry, a Texas home builder, who spent almost half a million; and well-known political contributors such as casino operator Sheldon Adelson and former Amway CEO Dick DeVos, who kicked in a quarter-million dollars each. Businessman David Koch gave $1 million to the Republic Governors Association, which spent $4 million on the Wisconsin race.
These donations have nothing to do with Citizens United. Individuals have been free to make unlimited independent expenditures in support of candidates since the Supreme Court case of Buckley v. Valeo (1976).
Last, and certainly not least, there is Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, who never misses an opportunity to blame every malaise known to mankind on poverty. So of course, he wants to make unionism a civil rights issue. He proclaims,
In order to address our society’s deepening class inequalities, it is time to extend antidiscrimination protections to workers of all races trying to join a union and become members of the middle-class.
This is a nonsensical statement. No one of any race suffers discrimination for joining a union. But then again, maybe Mr. Kahlenberg is on to something. Perhaps there is a civil rights angle to all this. I propose that we pass a national right-to-work law giving all workers a choice as to whether or not they join a union. By doing so, we’d learn how many workers would belong voluntarily. And if Wisconsin is any measure, the unions’ desperate rhetoric, lies, coercion, whining, etc. won’t do much good. Workers everywhere enjoying their new civil right – as they currently are in the Badger State – will flee their unions in droves.
About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.