Detroit News: Organized Labor Protects Its Bosses

By August 15, 2007Labor Unions

In a two-part series, “Union Divide,” the Detroit News applies the same standards of investigation, analysis and reporting to organized labor in Michigan that the newspaper does to corporations and their management.* The result? A revealing look at labor protecting its highly paid, upper-echelon leaders while rank-and-file members lose their jobs. The wealth gap exists, yes indeed — in the labor unions. From Tuesday’s “Labor bosses don’t share workers’ pain“:

During the toughest economic times for organized labor in decades, union leaders are more likely to keep their jobs and get raises than the members they serve. A Detroit News analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data revealed a growing pay divide between labor bosses and the rank and file who pay their salaries with their dues.

Michigan’s biggest unions represented 60,000 fewer workers in 2006 compared with 2002. While membership plummeted 14 percent, jobs at union halls remained safe, dropping less than 1 percent.

Workers who kept their jobs saw the disparity between their paychecks and those of their union bosses grow. The pay gap between the state’s 50 top-paid labor leaders and union workers has grown by $18,000 since 2002 — an economic chasm expanding by almost $10 a day. Records supplied to the Labor Department by the unions themselves show that the state’s 50 top-paid union officials now earn an average of $186,000. More than 1,000 labor officers and staffers in Michigan made more than $100,000 in 2006, more than twice as much as the average union worker.

U.S. House members explode: That’s outrageous! We better do something! I know! We’ll cut the Labor Department’s oversight funds so they can’t collect the data!

Today’s story, “Pay Gap Divides Labor Chiefs,” profiles the views of several top union leaders, including the UAW’s Ron Gettelfinger — who earns $156,000 in total annual compensation — and Robert Potter, president of the much smaller United Food and Commercial Workers Local 951, who earns $305,000.

We look forward to presidential candidates addressing the issue of excessive compensation for labor bosses. Too bad the News didn’t publish the package before last week’s AFL-CIO candidate forum in Chicago.

Still, all praise the News. It’s a worthy package, with sidebars, charts and much to chew on, contributing to an honest debate about the role of organized labor in a modern industrial economy.

*In May, the News produced a special report on executive compensation, “Michigan’s Fortunate 50.”

UPDATE (4:55 p.m.): Good posts on the topic at, here and here.

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