Las Vegas Review-Journal Publishes Misinformed Op-Ed Blaming Government Unions For Income Inequality

An op-ed published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal attempted to piggyback on Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' economic inequality platform to spread anti-union conservative misinformation blaming public employee unions for widening levels of inequality. The paper failed to disclose the author's parent organization is part of the State Policy Network -- a collection of think tanks funded in part by the Koch brothers -- and receives funding from the manufacturing industry.

LVRJ Op-Ed: Government Unions Are A “Key Source Of Income Inequality”

Las Vegas Review-Journal Op-Ed Blames Income Inequality On Government Unions. On February 1, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published an op-ed from Robert Fellner, a member of Transparent Nevada, a product of the conservative Nevada Policy Research Institute. The op-ed misleadingly argued that government unions are a “key source of income inequality,” and failed to disclose the author's ties to anti-union dark money donors:

Bernie Sanders has made a presidential campaign out of income inequality, claiming that wealth is created at the expense of the middle class and poor. The exact opposite is true, of course. Income generated in the marketplace -- based on voluntary purchases and mutually agreeable salary negotiations -- is a positive-sum game, where both sides gain.

There is one group, however, that actually does enrich itself by taking from others: the government.

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The culprit lies in mandatory collective bargaining laws -- like those found in California, Nevada and elsewhere -- that force public agencies to contract with government unions. Such coercive statutes give government unions excessive leverage in negotiations with their ultimate employers -- the taxpayers and the general public. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 2/1/16]

Wages Suffer Without Unions, Furthering Income Inequality

International Monetary Fund: Declining Unionization “Has Fed The Rise In Incomes At The Top.” A March 2015 report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) illustrated the correlation between declining union membership and increasing wealth inequality. Unions, the report states, are “usually thought to reduce inequality by helping equalize the distribution of wages, and economic research confirms this” :

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On average, the decline in unionization explains about half of the 5 percentage point rise in the top 10 percent income share. [International Monetary Fund, Finance & Development, March 2015]

Economic Policy Institute: “Erosion Of Collective Bargaining” Contributes To Economic Inequality. According to a January 6, 2015 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.

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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]

EPI: “Unionization Raises Wages.” An April 22, 2015 report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) demonstrated that wages are lower in “right to work” states, which prohibit unions from negotiating agreements with employers. Without unionization, workers can expect to receive 3.1 percent less pay:

Wages in [Right to Work (RTW)] states are 3.1 percent lower than those in non-RTW states, after controlling for a full complement of individual demographic and socioeconomic factors as well as state macroeconomic indicators. This translates into RTW being associated with $1,558 lower annual wages for a typical full-time, full-year worker

The relationship between RTW status and wages remains economically and statistically significant under alternative specifications of our econometric model. [Economic Policy Institute, 4/22/15]

Right-Wing Media Have A History Of Blaming Public Unions For Economic Inequality

A Forbes Op-Ed Claimed Public Unions Hurt Economic Mobility For Non-Union Workers. In a September 29, 2015 op-ed published by Forbes, conservative writer and Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) fellow Carrie Sheffield highlighted a CEI report she co-authored, which blamed public sector unions for reducing upward socio-economic mobility for private sector workers and threatening the “fiscal solvency of future generations.” Sheffield claimed that stripping public sector unions of their collective bargaining right, while cutting pay and benefits, would reduce an allegedly “widening wealth gap between well-connected government workers and the rest of America.” [Media Matters, 9/30/15]

Right-Wing Outlets Promoted Forbes' Misleading Claims. In response to the Forbes op-ed, other right-wing outlets -- The Daily Caller, Investor's Business Daily, Washington Free Beacon, and Watchdog.org -- began promoting the misleading CEI research in an attempt to push their anti-union agendas. [Media Matters, 10/2/15]

Fox Business Hyped Cato Data Falsely Claiming Government Workers Are Overpaid. On the October 9, 2015 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney and guest Tammy Bruce hyped a misleading report from the right-wing Cato Institute to attack “super, super rich” federal workers for contributing to economic inequality in Washington, D.C. The research, which failed to account for striking differences in job functions and education levels between private and public sector employees, concluded that federal workers were paid 78 percent more than private sector workers, and demanded that compensation and benefits be cut to better reflect the lower-paying private sector. [Media Matters, 10/9/15]

The Nevada Policy Research Institute Has Ties To Anti-Union Dark Money Donors

Transparent Nevada Is A Product Of The Nevada Policy Research Institute. According to their website, Transparent Nevada is “provided by the Nevada Policy Research Institute.” [Transparent Nevada, accessed 2/3/16]

The Nevada Policy Research Institute Funded In Part By The Koch Brothers And Other Anti-Union Conservative Donors. The Center for Media and Democracy reports that the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) is a member of the State Policy Network, which receives large donations from the Koch brothers, who own several manufacturing companies under Koch Industries, and Donors Trust, a conservative organization that allows donors to conceal their identity. NPRI has spent “more than a decade” bashing Nevada's effort to pass collective bargaining laws. As Al Mance, executive director of the Tennessee Education Associated explained, “This is a national movement [to end collective bargaining], and it's funded by all the conservative moneyed interests.” [Center for Media and Democracy, accessed 2/2/16; Mother Jones, 4/25/11]

Funding For Nevada Policy Research Institute Points To “Dark Money ATM.” According to a February 5, 2013 exposé by Mother Jones, The State Policy Network's main donor, Donor's Trust effectively functions as the right-wing “dark money ATM” bankrolling the conservative movement nationwide:

Working out of an nondescript brick rowhouse in suburban Virginia, a little-known organization named Donors Trust, staffed by five employees, has steered hundreds of millions of dollars to the most influential think tanks, foundations, and advocacy groups in the conservative movement. Over the past decade, it has funded the right's assault on labor unions, climate scientists, public schools, economic regulations, and the very premise of activist government. Yet unlike its nearest counterpart on the progressive side, the Tides Foundation, a bogeyman of Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, Donors Trust has mostly avoided any real scrutiny. It is the dark-money ATM of the right.

Founded in 1999, Donors Trust (and an affiliated group, Donors Capital Fund) has raised north of $500 million and doled out $400 million to more than 1,000 conservative and libertarian groups, according to Whitney Ball, the group's CEO. Donors Trust allows wealthy contributors who want to donate millions to the most important causes on the right to do so anonymously, essentially scrubbing the identity of those underwriting conservative and libertarian organizations. Wisconsin's 2011 assault on collective bargaining rights? Donors Trust helped fund that. ALEC, the conservative bill mill? Donors Trust supports it. The climate deniers at the Heartland Institute? They get Donors Trust money, too. [Mother Jones, 2/5/13]