In a campaign season when economic inequality has become a powerful populist message — on both the left and right — there’s still one place where huge pay gaps are apparently acceptable: in organized labor.
Responding (here and here, for example) to Watchdog investigations into pay inequality between union leaders and rank-and-file members, union supporters insist workers shouldn’t care that union bosses are paid six figures — because executives at huge corporations are paid more.
Concerns about chief executive officer pay are stoked by union coalition AFL-CIO, whose annual Executive Paywatch report decries the “grotesque inequality” between low-skill workers and heads of businesses in the S&P 500 index.
Executive Paywatch is promoted heavily by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and frequently cited by opponents of right-to-work, who see CEO pay as an argument for forcing workers to pay unions whether they want to or not.
The average corporate CEO was paid $216,100 last year, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Trumka, who was paid $322,131, was not even one of the nation’s 100 highest-paid union bosses.
To be sure, executives at many of America’s largest companies are paid more than the union officers and employees who run the labor unions in Missouri and other states.
But does it make sense to compare union bosses — whose pay is taken from the workers they claim to represent — to the CEOs who pay workers’ salaries?
Tim Jones, chairman of the Missouri Club for Growth and former speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives, told Watchdog it’s an “apples and oranges” comparison meant to distract from “massive” union boss salaries.
“Most people would be amazed at how much labor bosses actually do make,” Jones said. “People need to know there are labor bosses that are multimillionaires.”
Unlike CEOs who “believe people should be paid for the actual value of the labor they provide” and whose businesses create the profits that keep workers employed, Jones said, union leaders espouse a “flattening of everyone’s wages” that clashes with their own plump paychecks.
He called it hypocritical for union bosses to make a living selling “solidarity” to workers who are forced to pay them.
“How much solidarity is there when the labor bosses are taking home six-figure paychecks?” Jones asked.
Jones, who sponsored a right-to-work bill in the past legislative session, expects the Missouri General Assembly to hold an override vote Wednesday on Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the right-to-work bill passed this spring.
Whatever the outcome, Jones said Missouri Club for Growth will continue supporting lawmakers who vote to let workers choose whether to pay union dues.
As Watchdog reported last week, two of the union officials leading the “Preserve Middle Class Missouri” push against right-to-work are paid $177,000 each, more than triple the average Missouri household income.
Staff of the Carpenters union behind “The Committee to Protect MO Families” are paid an average of $94,834, while Missouri carpenters are paid an average of $50,120.
The gulf between Missouri workers and the union bosses paid with workers’ dues widens when union leaders are compared to inexperienced workers the same way AFL-CIO compares S&P 500 CEOs to entry-level workers.
Missourians who graduated from state colleges with associate degrees in 2012 were paid an average of $42,477 in heavily unionized construction trades last year, according to Missouri Department of Economic Development records.
Workers with annual wages at the tenth percentile in several major sectors of Missouri’s economy were paid roughly one-tenth as much as the union bosses running Preserve Middle Class Missouri.
Based on federal data, wages at the tenth percentile for sales and related jobs were $16,770 in Missouri last year. Transportation and material moving jobs paid $17,600 at the tenth percentile, while office and administrative support jobs paid $18,940 and production jobs paid $19,000.
Union bosses typically refuse to comment on their own pay, especially in the midst of campaigns like their fight to sustain Nixon’s right-to-work veto in Missouri. Multiple Teamsters union locals, United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655 and the Missouri AFL-CIO failed to respond to questions from Watchdog.