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WI Biz Lobby Claims Employers Pay for 95% of Construction Training; Politifact Shoots Them Down

An IBEW Local 388 apprentice in central Wisconsin

An IBEW Local 388 apprentice in central Wisconsin

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A recent “Right-to-Work” panel discussion hosted by the Rotary Club of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Press Club devolved into a fact-checking dog fight and Politifact answered the call .  Participating in the panel were Kurt Bauer, leader of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (a massive business lobby), and Steve Lyons, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition (WCC).  The WCC is comprised of businesses that oppose “Right-to-Work.” Bauer and his group wholeheartedly support it.

When Lyons spoke about the effect “Right-to-Work” would have on training in the construction trades, Bauer presented the numbers that would lead to the fact-checking inquiry (audio of panel here):

Lyons noted that many skilled trades such as carpenters, plumbers and operating engineers provide training to their members at union-run centers across the state — and argued such training would be hurt if the state passes a right-to-work law.

Union members “gave $30 million to these facilities,” last year, Lyons said.

“From the training perspective, it’s great that some of these unions do train — not all of them do — the trades do,” Bauer countered. “But it’s paid for by employers. That won’t change — 95 percent comes from employers.”

Bauer then added: “That’s one for PolitiFact.”

Here’s how the esteemed fact-checking site sees it:

Scott Manley, vice president of governmental relations for WMC, said the best evidence the training money comes from employers is the tax returns filed by the nonprofit entities that the unions use to manage the training money.

“According to tax forms filed by unions with the IRS, businesses pay about 95% of the operating cost for union training programs,” Manley said in an email. “Although the amount paid may be negotiated with the unions who do the training … it is businesses that actually make the payment.”

Manley added: “Employers pay to have workers trained because it is in their best interest to have skilled employees.” Right to work laws, he added, “will not change employers’ need for skilled labor or their willingness to pay for it.”

Tax experts such as Howard H. Simon, an accountant with the Chicago-based Calibre CPA Group, see the documents differently, however.  Politifact explains:

He provided a list of about three dozen state-based training funds, and the sources of the money. One example: The Appleton-Oshkosh Electrical Workers Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee.

The list “demonstrates that employees of the various trade organizations listed contributed over $31 million to their training funds (in a one-year period),” Simon said in a memo to Lyons.

“It’s a private contract…between the private sector business and the private sector union,” Lyons said. “And it’s a voluntary contract. And in those contracts … the individual employees determine how much they’re going to give.”

So how did Politifact rate Bauer’s claim?

Bauer says that employers pay 95 percent of the cost of union workers to receive training.

That may be true in a technical sense, and on an IRS form, but it’s not that simple. The money in question belongs to the workers — it’s part of their compensation. And they decide how to allocate it each year.

The statement contains some element of truth but leaves out important information that would lead to a different impression. In our book, that’s Mostly False.

Mostly false, just like the rest of the rhetoric “Right-to-Work” supporters voice.


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