Letter: Union membership institutionalizes wage disparity

The Detroit News

Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, recently wrote ("Union membership fixes wage disparity," April 9) that union membership fixes wage disparity. This opinion follows Gary Jones, president of UAW International Union, who claimed ("Collective bargaining creates equality," March 26) that if you want equal pay for women, you have to join a union.

UAW delegates listen to speakers during the Special Convention on Collective Bargaining at Cobo Center.

The data does not show that joining a union means equal pay for men and women, for there is still an earnings gap between unionized men and women. In 2018, unionized women made 86 cents for every dollar their male colleagues earned, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On average, female union members make more than $8,000 less a year than their male counterparts.

The UAW and Michigan AFL-CIO make the mistaken assumption that union policies negate gender disparities. But their policies instead punish women for well-known differences between men and women in the workforce and thereby ensure that women generally make less than men.

Unions also take away the ability of women to negotiate with their employer one-on-one. When women cannot negotiate their own terms and conditions of employment, they cannot discuss skills used and implemented while away from the workforce that should be compensated upon reentry into the workforce. Collective bargaining agreements do not allow for employees covered by the agreement to negotiate directly with the employer. This is true even for women who decide not to join the union.

What other union policies punish women for well-known differences? Insisting on pay scales that reward employees largely or exclusively for longevity. For example, collective bargaining agreements for teachers typically include a single salary schedule where pay is determined by the number of years of experience and some form of academic credit or credentials.

Unions believe that the single salary schedule, by requiring equal pay for employees who have the same level of experience and training, will prevent favoritism and discrimination. But by only rewarding longevity and not allowing employers to consider other factors, the single salary schedule tips the pay scales against women, who tend to spend more time outside the workforce than men.

Women who take time away from paid employment while their children are at home are forced to enter the pay scale behind their male colleagues who did not do likewise.

And when women with children work, they are more likely to work part-time. Almost 23 percent of working mothers have part-time jobs while just 4 percent of working fathers have part-time jobs. Union workforces tend to be full-time workforces would be unavailable for moms that only want to work part-time. And even if part-time union opportunities are available, part-time work tends to count for part-time years of longevity.

So, if union policies are designed for people who consistently stay in the workforce on a full-time basis, then gender differences in child rearing matter. Union policies work for the 86 percent of men with children who work full-time and the 53 percent of women who do — but not other women.

Despite union claims that union jobs will eliminate gender bias, their practices result in unequal outcomes because men and women tend to make different decisions about their careers. Unions, as they now operate, perpetuate pay differences rather than alleviate them.

James M. Hohman, director of fiscal policy, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Morgan Shields, legal counsel and director of Workers for Opportunity

Mackinac Center for Public Policy