This is the last of our 7 lies. It is the glue that holds all the other lies together.
There is a lot to like about this argument if you are a union organizer. The first is that if you aren’t very curious about government statistics – and really, who is – it actually looks like this argument is true.
Each year when unions are forced to explain how they managed to lose even more union members over the last year they always will point people to the annual Bureau of Labor Statistics information on union wage rates. They will then tell you that
these statistics prove that union members make about thirty percent more than non-union members across the country.
You read that right. Thirty percent.
Surely if this were true people would be lining up at union halls around the country trying to get a union into their workplace, right? Of course the answer can be found in that age-old saying there are lies, damn lies and statistics.
The annual BLS statistics aren’t very good. First, they do not account for regional differences. It turns out that union members congregate mainly in large metropolitan areas, especially on the two coasts. Turns out that these same areas are also where it is most expensive to live and wage rates tend to be higher in these areas.
In addition, the statistics that unions like to quote just lump everyone together, which then assumes that union membership is distributed evenly across job classifications. Turns out that also isn’t true. So you end up comparing unionized NFL and NBA players with non-union Mcdonald’s and Wal-Mart workers.
If you try to compare apples to apples (which is impossible using the BLS data set) the union premium tends to shrink. In many industries there is no gap at all – in some the non-union employees make more.
People aren’t stupid. The reason why non-union employees aren’t lining up to join unions is not because this union premium is a big secret, or that employers have some kind of mind control over their employees. It’s because they know by observing with their own eyes that the statistics just aren’t true. Some companies pay more than others. Some have better benefits. Some lay off half their workforce during the slow time of the year. Some work overtime non-stop.
The bottom line is that having a union does not make life better. In most of the important,
day-to-day ways it makes life worse. It adds another layer of bureaucracy and politics to your work life. It adds additional costs and rules. It can hurt the competitiveness of a company, making it more vulnerable to market forces.
Again, the best way to illustrate this point is by using a clipping file. Show examples of companies represented by unions that have failed.