Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Union President Pay Watch, 2015

moneyLast week, the AFL-CIO released its annual report that claims to compare how much average employees make compared to business chief executives. The union federation alleged that CEOs make over 300 times what the “average worker” makes.

Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute, among others, has chronicled the numerous flaws with this argument. Unions get their absurd comparisons by cherry-picking only the S&P 500 executives to represent all CEOs to juice their final number. This would be like picking only major league professional athletes to represent the “average worker” – choosing the highest-compensated non-representative group possible.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) compiles data on how much people who do different jobs make each year. In 2014 (the most recent available year), BLS found that the 246,240 “chief executives” made an average salary of $180,700. That’s no small amount of money, but it’s not the millions that the AFL-CIO touts in its press releases.

And what’s even most interesting is that the union doesn’t seem to care so much about pay discrepancies when it comes to its own. Many union presidents are paid more than the average chief executive, as befits the leader of an organization handling millions of dollars in (often forced) dues money. All told, 162 union presidents, executive presidents, or general presidents were paid more than $180,700 in gross salary alone in 2014 union fiscal years, according to Department of Labor records. Add in other officers like secretary-treasurer and vice presidents, and the number grows.

The top ten best-paid union presidents (not including those who retired mid-year and presumably took deferred compensation) by gross salary are:


The AFL-CIO’s “PayWatch” includes all compensation for S&P 500 executives, not just salaries. And not surprisingly, union bosses also cash in on expense accounts and other compensation. The top ten total pay packages (again, excluding union presidents who retired) are below:

Richard Trumka wants the public to compare the pay of the people who run major, multi-national companies like Coca-Cola, Lockheed Martin, and Yahoo with the teenager who scans groceries at the checkout counter. It’s an economically illiterate comparison—it takes a particular set of very refined skills and knowledge to manage a multinational corporation, while almost anyone with a pulse can scan groceries. In fact, it also takes a unique sets of skills to run a labor union, and union bosses would surely argue that they’re being compensated fairly. The difference is that union bosses are paid from mostly compelled dues rather than the revenues generated from voluntary commercial customers.

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