Right-Wing Media Cite Misleading Report To Attack Public Employee Unions

Report Falsely Claims Public Employee Unions Hurt Upward Mobility, Drive Economic Inequality

Multiple conservative media outlets used a misleading report to attack public unions, claiming that unions hurt upward mobility and drive economic inequality -- a theory Media Matters has already thoroughly debunked.

Right-Wing Media Use Theory, Not Facts, To Attack Public Unions

Forbes Scapegoats Public Sector Unions For Private Sector Problems. In a September 29 op-ed published by Forbes, conservative writer and Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) fellow Carrie Sheffield promoted her new report blaming public sector unions for reducing the upward socio-economic mobility of private sector workers and threatening the “fiscal solvency of future generations.” The op-ed claimed that public sector union members are “materially better off” than private sector employees, and recommended gouging the pay and benefits of public sector employees as a solution to the allegedly widening “wealth gap.” [Media Matters, 9/30/15]

Investment Business Daily: Government Union Members Live Off Backs Of Others. A September 29 editorial in Investment Business Daily promoted the misleading CEI report, claiming public sector union members are “expensive” drains on government resources who use coercive collective bargaining tactics to overpay themselves at great cost to taxpayers and society as a whole:

Government union members are expensive. Sheffield says they “enjoy higher wages and benefits and ironclad job protections.” Through collective bargaining, they “gain outsize pay and benefits, and hurt taxpayers, who end up paying more for public services.”

When the public-sector unions negotiate with government, collective bargaining is actually more like collective taking. The group across the table has the same interests as the union. There is no one to say no to union bosses' demands.


This arrangement has given government unions an advantage at the expense of taxpayers and those who most need government services, says Sheffield, due to “the costs and inefficiencies imposed by government unions.” [Investor's Business Daily, 9/29/15]

Washington Free Beacon Paints Government Workers As “White-Collar” Enjoying “Big Benefits And Job Security.” A September 29 report from the Washington Free Beacon titled “Government Unions Take from the Poor to Give to the Rich,” used the the misleading CEI study to disparage government workers for having the supposed privilege of job security not afforded to private sector employees:

The government employees who now make up a majority of the nation's union members are a far cry from the blue-collar archetype of old, according to a new report.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute will release a report on Tuesday morning documenting the changing nature of unionism in America, as white-collar professionals in the public sector overtake the private sector working class as the face of unionism.

“Public sector unions may claim they stand up for the little guy, but generally they aren't representing blue collar workers against a better-educated, white-collar management,” said Carrie Sheffield, a scholar at the institute, in a release. “Government unions represent skilled, white-collar workers who enjoy big benefits and job security, courtesy of the taxpayer.” [Washington Free Beacon, 9/29/15]

The Daily Caller Claims “Out Of Control” Public Unions Have “Unchecked Power.” A September 29 article by The Daily Caller used the CEI report to accuse unions of having “unchecked power” that burdens taxpayers and corrupts the American political system:

Unchecked power has allowed public unions to establish member benefits that put a huge burden on taxpayers, a report released Tuesday by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) found.


Worst of all, Sheffield finds, the negative effect on upward mobility is not simply contained within the union, but spills out to effect the people who use their services, often those most in need of a leg up.


Their monopoly on labor, the necessity of their services, and their propensity to strike make for a costly cocktail: politicians rarely stand up to them. Those few who do, like Republican Governors Chris Christie, Scott Walker or Bruce Rauner along with Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, face long and tense legal and political battles, often at the behest of other policy goals. [The Daily Caller, 9/29/15]

Watchdog.org: Public Unions Are “Bad News For Private-Sector Workers.” An October 2 article from Watchdog.org used the the misleading CEI study to claim government workers' collective bargaining rights hurt private sector workers and taxpayers who are “squeeze[d]” to accommodate “pay and benefit increases” for union members:

Powerful public-sector unions may be good for government employees, but they're bad news for private-sector workers.


“Government employee unions create a more expensive and protected class of workers at the expense of nonunion workers, students, and taxpayers,” Sheffield wrote. The trend has gotten worse as public employee unions' increasing influence has emboldened union bosses “to become more directly involved in politics and more radical in their demands,” she explained.

Public employee unions funnel taxpayer money to politicians who cycle more taxpayer money to the unions by helping squeeze taxpayers for pay and benefit increases, threatening access to public services if union demands aren't met. [Watchdog.org, 10/2/15]

Union Membership Drives Economic Mobility

Economic Inequality Driven By Union Decline And Education Disparities. According to a study of the relationship between union membership and income inequality from 1973 through 2007 performed by sociologists Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld of Harvard University and the University of Washington, declining union membership, coupled with an increasing demand for college-educated workers, drove most of the growth of wage inequalities experienced by working American men and women over the past several decades. According to Western and Rosenfeld's findings, unions had a “powerful” impact on the wages of non-union workers and their declining membership contributed to unequal pay “for union members and nonunionized workers alike”:

More pay for college-educated people and the decline of labor unions have worked together to spur wage gaps since the 1970s. Together, these key factors account for about three-quarters of the rise in private sector wage inequality among men, and two-thirds of the rise for women. Our research teases out the relative effects and explains how union decline has mattered.

  • The educational compensation gap accounts for about a third of the increased wage inequality for men and about two-fifths of the increased wage inequality for women.
  • Declining unionization was associated with about a third of the increase in wage inequality for men from 1973 to 2007 and about a fifth of the increase for women. For male workers, therefore, the impact of declining unions has been roughly equal to the impact of the growing wage gap between college and high school-educated workers.
  • Union decline powerfully affected wage inequality among nonunion workers in highly unionized regions and industries. When unions went into a tailspin, the entire surrounding labor market was affected. Worker leverage suffered and prevailing wages faltered. Pay at work grew more unequal for union members and nonunionized workers alike. [Scholars Strategy Network, March 2012]

EPI: Decline Of Collective Bargaining Widens Gap Between Wages And Productivity. According to a January 6 report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the erosion of collective bargaining for American workers has “widened the gap between productivity and pay” and significantly contributed to stagnating wages and growing economic inequality:

A key factor undermining pay growth for middle-wage workers over the last few decades has been the erosion of collective bargaining. When unions are able to set strong pay standards in particular occupations or industries through collective bargaining, the employers in those settings also raise the wages and benefits of nonunion workers toward the standards set through collective bargaining. Thus, the weakening of the collective bargaining system has had an adverse impact on the compensation of both union and nonunion workers.


Any effort to reestablish a link between pay and productivity growth will need to promote policies that enable workers to once again join unions and bargain collectively. This conclusion is central to any debate about how to address ongoing income inequality or limited income mobility. It is only once workers have the ability to bargain for higher wages that we will see the broad-based wage growth necessary to remedy these problems. [Economic Policy Institute, 1/6/15]

CAP: Children Of Union Families Have Greater Upward Mobility. According to a September 2015 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), children in union families and children in non-union families in areas with higher levels of worker unionization were better off than children in non-union families in areas with lower rates of unionization. According to CAP, unionization has contributed to positive “intergenerational” effects for families because those children attain higher levels of education and achieve more economically:

In this report, we have shown that parents' union membership has a significant and positive relationship with their children's well-being. The adult offspring of unionized parents earn higher labor incomes compared to the offspring of nonunionized parents. They also attain higher levels of education, which can help them achieve better economic standings. This intergenerational union effect is stronger for less-educated and less-skilled parents, making it a positive force for intergenerational mobility. An association also appears on the area level: Localities withhigher union membership are also areas where children of poor parents end up higher in the national income distribution and children throughout the income distribution earn more in these areas. [Center for American Progress, 9/9/15]