Grover Norquist’s false twist to anti-union rhetoric

In an anti-union attack posted on the Daily Caller website, Grover Norquist writes in favor of recent anti-collective-bargaining legislation. With what amounts to little more than conservative rhetoric, Norquist tries to pull a fast one by arguing that unionization and collective bargaining cause workers to earn less than their non-unionized counterparts. Norquist cites no hard facts, and there’s a reason for that: his claim is false.

All of the available facts on union versus non-union wages disprove his argument. Norquist begins by using misleading language. He says that “explicit wage caps are already in place for nearly eight million unionized, middle-class workers – nearly all union contracts set both a wage floor and ceiling.” This misrepresentation of collective bargaining gives a false impression of wage structures in union contracts.

Collective bargaining certainly does establish wage floors – a minimum wage – but to call the upper end of a salary chart a “ceiling” denies reality. Salary structures in a collective bargaining agreement represent the minimum and maximum negotiated salaries. The minimum salary specifies the lowest wage that can be paid to entry-level employees, guaranteeing that workers who perform similar work will be paid the same wage. The maximum salary specifies the highest wage possible as agreed upon by the union and the employer.

Between these two extremes, usually, exist a predetermined number of salary grades that are accumulated through seniority, each with a corresponding pay increase. Norquist ignores the fact that this system benefits both the employer and the employee.

By calling the maximum negotiated wage a “ceiling,” Norquist implies that unions intentionally limit the maximum wage that can be earned by employees. But what he ignores is the fact that this maximum wage is negotiated, and the union-employer relationship, at least in terms of wage negotiations, is inherently adversarial. Employees want to get paid more and employers want to pay less. By negotiating minimum and maximum salaries, all parties to the contract can know they’ve been treated fairly with an agreement that everyone can live with – literally and figuratively.

Norquist’s alternative version of this process is an out-and-out lie about union motivation. His implication that unions purposefully limit a worker’s income runs counter to the core mission of unions: to increase wages, improve working conditions, and secure benefits like health care, vacation time, and sick leave.

Additionally, the seniority system he denigrates also tends to benefit both employee and employer. Seniority systems benefit employees by incentivizing career longevity. The longer an employee stays on the job, the higher his pay will be, increasing the likelihood that he will be a good employee in order to secure those benefits, rather than risking his job. And, the longer an employee stays on the job, the better he will become at the job, increasing overall productivity and quality.

Norquist’s core claim, that workers’ pay will increase if collective bargaining is eliminated, completely ignores established, research-based facts comparing union versus non-union wages. Norquist would have the public believe that unionization and collective bargaining cause them to make less money. Either this is an intentional lie, or Norquist is ignorant of the facts, which is hard to believe.

In support of this claim, he cites a Heritage Foundation study that claims the elimination of negotiated salary charts in collective bargaining would “increase workers’ salaries by $2,700 to $4,500 per year.” What Norquist doesn’t tell his readers is that the Heritage Foundation is a conservative political think-tank with an anti-union policy agenda. He also doesn’t tell his readers that the Heritage Foundation study is a theory based on other theories unsupported by facts. The reality is that “union workers still earn more, on average, than their nonunion counterparts,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Using BLS data, the Service Employees Union reports that, on average, unionized workers earn $10,400 more per year than their nonunion counterparts, facts that oppose Norquist’s claims.

If Norquist were honest with readers, he would admit his objective: to convince voters to support politicians who oppose unions and collective bargaining. He would also be honest about why this is his objective: his political interests are at odds with the goals of unions and their members. It’s not about what’s best for workers, it’s about who will control the American establishment until the next election. Grover Norquist has every right to argue his position, but he shouldn’t pretend it’s an objective conclusion with altruistic motives.

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