Union Approval Falls to New Low in Face of Huge Wage Disparity

Labor unions are their own worst enemy.

They were formed with laudable goals, finding power in numbers to fight against the poor working conditions, long hours, and low pay of many early manufacturing jobs. Recently, unions have fallen on hard times. Their percentage of the workforce has fallen to a historical low of 8%. Moreover, In 1957 sixty-one percent more people approved than disapproved of labor unions. Today that number has plummeted to just eleven percent.

The one-time defender of worker rights has fallen on hard times. But why? How did an organization whose mission is to improve working standards for their members, a cause which stated-plainly should be wildly popular, end up being so disliked.

Some would point to the 1920s as a period of similar decline, arguing that union membership, as with almost anything is cyclical. But that period of union weakness was marked by economic prosperity. People didn’t join unions because they didn’t have to, the market was doing more than enough to keep their pay high and conditions acceptable. Today is radically different. The economy (if you hadn’t noticed) is in the tank, companies are looking for cost-savings wherever they can, and lowered profits have translated into lower wages. Shouldn’t this be a boom period for unions?

Regardless of what it should be, it isn’t. The reason for the continued fall in public approval, power, and membership is their own doing. They are a victim of their own success. They have fought, and too often won, concessions and wages that outstrip those of the rest of the private sector. They have used their increased wealth to rake in dues that are then put toward campaigns. Their bargaining success in the workplace translated to success in the halls of Congress. They became the much-loathed “insiders,” able to secure favorable legislation in exchange for financial support in reelection campaigns. It was a well-oiled machine that worked very well.

In good times unions’ success was masked by the success of everyone. Now that the economy has taken a turn for the worse unions have become the villains. The public-sector has been the focal point for much of the public’s wrath. And for good reason. A new report by the USA Today finds that,

“At a time when workers’ pay and benefits have stagnated, federal employees’ average compensation ahs grown to more than double what private sector workers earn.”

Double. According to the analysis, the average federal civil servants earn $123,049 in combined pay and benefits. On the other side of the prosperity coin, the average private sector worker made $61,051 in total compensation. Although you can quibble with the variables, including education and skill-level, the bottom line remains just as shocking for the average worker attempting to eke by in this recession.

A similar report from the Wall Street Journal only adds fuel to the fire. In August they reported that “Among the 52 metro areas with populations of more than one million, in only three did both net earnings and the broader measure of personal income both rise.” Can you guess the similarity between the three places? All three had strong ties to the federal government – Washington, DC, San Antonio and Virginia Beach.

In this time of economic crisis the perception of shared sacrifice is important to Americans. Unions, and especially public sector unions, appear to be exempt from the financial plight of the rest of us.  As their wage disparity continues to grow, they should expect their approval ratings to continue to fall.

by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee


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