News Story

Union President Tells Women to Join Union to Get Equal Pay

But national data says union men make more than union women

A statue of a female union member breaking a window is part of a union display in Flint commemorating the Flint sit-down strike in the 1930s.

AFL-CIO President Karla Swift told a group in Lansing on Tuesday that belonging to unions is the way women could get equal pay. One news site headline read: “Swift: Want Pay Equity Working Women? Join A Union!”

Except, that’s not accurate, according to figures compiled by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Or at least not accurate in the literal sense that Swift and other speakers at the event have themselves used to frame the issue. When the different skill and experience levels of different workers and the jobs they do are considered it may be that Swift is correct and unionized women really do make as much as unionized men, other things being equal. But adjusting pay figures for such differences violates the simplistic math Swift and her associates are using to make their argument.

Men in unions made 11 percent more than women in 2014, according to the BLS. Male union members had median weekly earnings of $1,015. Women earned $904 a week that year. Women union members have earned less than male union members going back to 2000, which is as far back as the BLS data on this detail goes.

Swift spoke at an event in Lansing after the Michigan House passed a resolution designating April 14 as “Pay Equity Day.”

“Working women should join a union,” Swift said, igniting a 10-second long applause, according to the Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS). “Because union contracts protect equal pay for men and women doing the same jobs. And women who join a union see their wages go up an average of 11 percent compared to non-union women workers in similar fields.”

The AFL-CIO didn’t respond to an email asking why men made more than women in unions.

Mark Perry, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a finance and business professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, said “equal pay for equal work” has been the law of the land since 1963 and the passage of the Equal Pay Act.

“Most organizations will have gender pay gaps when comparing aggregate weekly or annual pay, and labor unions are no different,” Perry said in an email. “BLS data show that there is a 11-percent gender pay gap for union workers, and female union workers made only 89 cents for every dollar that a male union worker makes in 2014. That would mean that the average female union worker earned almost $6,000 less than the average male union worker, and therefore had to work an additional six weeks, or until the middle of February this year before she earned the same amount of income as the average male union worker earned in 2014.”

Perry said there was an 18-percent gender pay gap at President Barack Obama’s White House in 2014, and Hillary Clinton, while senator, had a 28-percent gender pay gap for her staff members.

“Karla Swift and the feminists can’t have it both ways, either: a) there are gender pay differences throughout the entire economy and in any organization including for union workers in America, which can be explained by factors other than gender discrimination including age, years of continuous work experience, level of education, number of hours worked, marital status, number of children, workplace environment and workplace safety, industry differences, etc., or b) any gender pay gap in aggregate, unadjusted salaries automatically exposes gender discrimination — including for union workers — and Swift then needs to explain why labor unions are 'waging a war on women' by paying them 11 percent less on average than men,” Perry said.

Charles Owens, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the debate on the salary gender gap has become “a battle of the studies.”

Owens said he believes the gap is based on career choices made by men and women as well as levels of education and hours worked.

“More women work part time than men,” Owens said.

Childbearing that translates to time off work also factors into total compensation, Owens added.

“These are choices these folks make that puts them at a disadvantage,” he said. “The real concern from equal-pay advocates is that the issue will disappear on its own before they can create a government agency to regulate it.”


Commentary: Alleged Gender Pay Discrepancy Based on Life Choices