Wash. Times and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review publish false Heritage Foundation claims about autoworker compensation

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

In recent days, The Washington Times and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published op-eds by members of the Heritage Foundation containing the false claim that union autoworkers earn $75 an hour in wages and benefits. In fact, according to General Motors, these claims are based not only on current workers' hourly wages and benefits, such as health care and retirement, but also retirement and health-care benefits that U.S. automakers are providing for current retirees.

In recent days, The Washington Times and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review have published op-eds by members of the Heritage Foundation containing the false claim that union autoworkers earn $75 an hour in wages and benefits. In a November 28 Washington Times op-ed, Heritage Foundation president Ed Feulner claimed that "UAW [United Auto Workers] employees earn three times as much as an average blue collar worker makes -- $75 per hour on average in wages and benefits." Similarly, in a November 25 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review op-ed, Heritage fellow James Sherk claimed that "UAW workers are among the world's most affluent. They take home an eye-popping $75 an hour in wages and benefits -- triple what the average private-sector worker earns." In fact, autoworkers do not take home an average of $75 per hour. According to General Motors, these claims are based not only on current workers' hourly wages and benefits, such as health care and retirement, but also retirement and health-care benefits that U.S. automakers are providing for current retirees, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted.

Heritage senior research fellow James Gattuso also recently asserted without challenge on MSNBC's Hardball that "there's no reason that a UAW worker should get total compensation of $70 an hour when the average American only makes about $25 an hour in total compensation." Numerous media figures have also advanced the false claim that autoworkers earn $70 or more per hour in wages and benefits, some using it to blame auto workers for the domestic auto industry's financial straits.

From Feulner's November 28 op-ed in The Washington Times:

For starters, the Big Three need an affordable labor deal. Across the decades, Detroit's powerful United Auto Workers union has negotiated unsustainable pay packages for its members. UAW employees earn three times as much as an average blue collar worker makes -- $75 per hour on average in wages and benefits. That's also about $25 per hour more than American employees of Japanese automakers earn.

Health care for retirees and current workers costs the company $4.6 billion in 2007. That, in turn, adds $1,200 to the cost of each new GM vehicle produced in the United States.

A bailout would mean taxpayers -- many of whom make far less than the average autoworker -- would be stuck paying for these unaffordable pay packages. Under bankruptcy protection, though, automakers could hammer out better deals, allowing them to close unnecessary plants, trim their work forces and reduce pay and benefit packages to bring them in line with those offered by other heavy manufacturing.

To succeed in the long haul, the automakers must also be able to shut down makes and models that don't sell very well, and also close underperforming car dealerships.

From Sherk's November 25 op-ed in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Many factors have combined to bring the Big Three down, including poor management, too many brands, poor product design and too many costly dealerships. But the main reason they're on the verge of bankruptcy can be summed up in three letters: UAW.

UAW workers are among the world's most affluent. They take home an eye-popping $75 an hour in wages and benefits -- triple what the average private-sector worker earns. They get seven weeks' paid vacation and holidays.

UAW workers retire after 30 years on a generous pension. If they don't qualify for Social Security benefits because they're in their 50s, they get special bonus payments until they do.

[...]

Management also made its share of mistakes. Focusing on gas-guzzling SUVs was foolish in hindsight. But even that was brought on by the UAW. At $75 an hour the Big Three couldn't compete in the small and midsize car market. So they concentrated on making the trucks and SUVs on which they could still make a profit. Until oil hit $140 a barrel.

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