UAW Workers Really Do Cost the Big Three $70 an Hour

Big Three Labor Costs

The liberal watchdog Media Matters for America is on a crusade to disprove the so-called “myth” that United Auto Workers employees cost the Big Three automakers more than $70 per hour. In a lengthy article over the weekend, Media Matters cites statements from General Motors to supposedly disprove this “falsehood.” There’s just one problem with Media Matters’ work — it’s all spin.

Last month my colleague James Sherk produced a Heritage Foundation study revealing, “The typical UAW worker at the Big Three earned between $71 and $76 an hour in 2006. This amount is triple the earnings of the typical worker in the private sector and $25 to $30 an hour more than American workers at Japanese auto plants.” (I wrote about it on RedState.)

The report came under attack from the UAW and its liberal allies. Yesterday, in the face of criticism, Sherk stood by his work. Turns out a couple years ago GM, which is now rebutting the figures, reported this: “The total of both cash compensation and benefits provided to GM hourly workers in 2006 amounted to approximately $73.26 per active hour worked.”

The left argues the $70-an-hour figure includes benefits to retirees, but the Big Three’s own financial statements dispute that assertion. In the case of GM, the company acknowledges it accounts for retiree benefits when workers earn the benefits, not years later. When GM’s $73.26 is broken down, it pays $39.68 an hour in wages and overtime, and the remaining $33.58 in benefits to current employees (including health costs and future pension payments).

Why does this matter? If the automakers file for bankruptcy, a judge could order UAW contracts to be renegotiated to be more competitive. That’s the last concession the UAW wants to make — and why it’s so important for the left to spin these numbers to look less outrageous.