The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, August 25, 2002  

Blame the Usual Suspects

When the going gets tough and the economy takes a downturn, blame it on the unions.

Yes, the unions, even though organized labor represents only one in 10 workers in the private sector.

“As organized labor asserts itself, potential strikes threaten, in turn, to further undermine the U.S. recovery,” writes Laurent Belsie in the August 22 issue of the Christian Science Monitor (“Labor More Militant as Economy Teeters”).

Belsie’s remark can only be described as astonishing (or perhaps nauseating) given what we have learned of rampant malfeasance in the executive and managerial offices of American corporations over the past five, ten years. Moreover, Belsie might want to consider that should any possible strikes actually occur, their ability to “undermine” the economic recovery, such as it is, will be temporary and extremely limited.

This is 2002, not 1952, for crying out loud. Blaming the unions is sheer stupidity.

The article concludes with this observation, apparently written with a straight face: “One of the few encouraging signs for the union movement comes from a survey of unionized employers. As of last year, nearly 6 in 10 expected to negotiate at least a 3 percent first-year pay increase in new labor contracts for 2002.”

How generous.

The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that in the 12 months ending July 2002, the consumer price index (CPI) has increased 1.5 percent and the core rate, which excludes food and energy, has climbed 2.2 percent.

So are these 60 percent of unionized workers getting a fair deal? It’s hard to tell. Yes, the 3 percent increase more than makes up for the officially sanctioned rate of inflation at the consumer level over the past 12 months, but many of these workers have gone several years without any pay increase whatsoever.

But is it a boondoggle?


The average American unionized worker makes $718 a week ($17.95 an hour), according to data collected by the AFL-CIO. That hourly wage may initially sound high, but it translates into just $37,336 annually, assuming full-year employment. If a family of four is living on it, their pretax income amounts to $9,334 per person.

And at the low end, unionized workers in the services sector earn $426 a week ($10.65 an hour), or $22,152 annually, assuming full-year employment, or $5,538 per person for a family of four. (How such families maintain anything resembling a normal existence is beyond me. By the grace of God I earned $10 an hour at jobs I held during college and graduate school nearly 20 years ago.)

And what about the other 40 percent of unionized workers? What are the odds most of them will get no increase in pay whatsoever? Quite high, I would wager.

And what of non-unionized workers, workers who already are paid considerably less than their organized counterparts? Does anyone really expect Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest employer, to initiate an across-the-board 3, 4, or 5 percent wage increase for its entirely non-unionized workforce? I don’t.

Wake up, people. You’re being screwed big time from every which way including up. And not just working-class Americans, but the middle class as well.

On some level you know this and yet you do nothing. Or worse, you cast your votes for the likes of President George W. Bush and other Republicans who care not one whit about your well being.

Remember that “tax rebate” you received? You know, that check for $300 or $600 that arrived in the mail last year? Well, that was a bribe, and for many taxpayers, that will be a fair estimation of the benefits they will derive from the Republican tax cut enacted last year.

I hope you enjoyed it (actually some surveys indicate most Americans “saved” it or used it to pay down debt) because for the next God knows how many decades you’re going to be paying for the biggest giveaway of all time: the reduction and eventual elimination of the estate tax, a multi-billion-dollar windfall that will benefit a grand total of 10,000 American families.

I’m willing to bet yours isn’t one of them. Why do you sit there and take it?

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