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Labor Sec. Perez: Weekly, Union Workers Earn $200 More than Non-Union Workers

Labor Sec Thomas Perez

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On the February 4th edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez claimed union workers, on average, earn $200 more a week than non-union workers.  Politifact decided to investigate the claim and wound up labelling it “mostly true,” adding a small asterisk because Perez should have said “median wages’ instead of “average wages.”  No matter the technicalities, the news is good for union membership: the value of collective bargaining is being championed in the mainstream(ish) media.  

In addition to staunchly defending a raise of the minimum wage, Perez used his time on the show to analyze newly released BLS numbers and what they mean for the union workforce. The numbers show the financial benefits of union membership differ from industry to industry, with construction near the top of the list in terms of union affiliation positively impacting wages. Politifact explains:

In some sectors, being a union member doesn’t matter much, BLS found. In several sectors — including “management, professional, and related occupations,” “financial activities,” “professional and technical services,” “sales and related occupations,” “mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction,” and the federal government — non-union workers actually earn modestly more than union members do. And union members earn only marginally more than nonunion workers in such fields as “telecommunications” and “arts, entertainment, and recreation.”

By contrast, the biggest gaps come in fields such as “protective service occupations” (a difference of $459 a week) and “construction” (a difference of $383 a week).

The Politifact research also indicates that when fringe benefits are included the union advantage increases even more:  

According to BLS data from 2011, workers’ pay plus benefits for a 40-hour week was $1,508 for a union employee and $1,083 for a non-union worker. That’s a gap of $425 — more than double the gap in the figures cited by Perez.

“Unions are typically more successful in getting good fringe benefits – especially health benefits, sickness pay, and retirement benefits – than in raising workers’ money wages,” Burtless said.

The BLS numbers also reveal striking gains for women who are unionized.


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