Charles Lane and the Washington Post Don't Like Unions

December 03, 2015

The Washington Post has long expressed outrage over the fact that unionized auto workers can get $28 an hour. Therefore it is hardly surprising to see editorial page writer Charles Lane with a column complaining that “the United Auto Workers sell out nonunion auto workers.”

The piece starts out by acknowledging that the AFL-CIO opposes tax provisions and trade agreements (wrongly called free trade agreements — apparently Lane has not heard about the increases in patent and copyright protection in these pacts) that encourage outsourcing. He could have also noted that it has argued for measures against currency management and promoted labor rights elsewhere, also measures that work against outsourcing. And, it would be appropriate to note in this context its support for measures that help the workforce as a whole, like Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and the Affordable Care Act.

But in spite of this seeming support for the workforce as a whole, Lane decides he going to prove to his readers that the United Auto Workers supports outsourcing. His smoking gun is the argument that if the union had agreed to lower pay for its workers at the Big Three, then they might shift fewer jobs to Mexico.

Lane’s water pistol here is shooting blanks. As he himself notes in the piece, even the non-union car manufacturers are shifting jobs to Mexico. They have cheaper wages there, companies will therefore try to do this. Essentially, Lane is arguing that unions sellout non-union workers by pushing for higher wages for their workers because if unionized workers got low pay in the United States, there would be less incentive to look overseas for cheap labor. That may be compelling logic at the Washington Post, but probably not anywhere else in the world.

It is worth noting that the Washington Post has never once run either an opinion piece or news article on the protectionist measures that allow U.S. doctors to earn on average twice as much as their counterparts in other wealthy countries. This costs the country nearly $100 billion a year in higher health care costs, or just under $800 a household.

It is probably also worth noting that manufacturing compensation is on average more than 30 percent higher in Germany and several other European countries than in the United States. And unions in general are associated with lower levels of inequality, according to the International Monetary Fund.

But hey, Charles Lane and the Washington Post are outraged that auto workers can earn $28 an hour.


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