January 2, 2008

Pro-Union side won't let facts, logic get in the way

Our colleagues over at the News Blog are reporting that the unionized clerical workers here at the U of C have finally reached a contract agreement with the University. I'm glad that this saga is finally over, and if you're interested in more details about it, please follow the link to the news blog. (On a side note, it's difficult to sort out how close the union was to getting what is asked for because of bonuses and retroactive pay raises, but it seems like the deal that was struck is a somewhat even compromise.)What I would like to comment on is what I see as the dishonesty/ignorance used by the pro-union side to make their arguments. The main point in favor of 4% wage increases is that it would keep up with inflation. Andrew Fischer Lees, however, debunks this misconception in his November 20 Maroon op-ed:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a federal agency within the Department of Labor, calculates the Consumer Price Index (CPI) each month to track changes in the cost of living. This data is collected by the Department of Labor precisely because labor leaders need data on the price level to back their demands for wage increases. But in the present case, it seems that labor leaders neglected to properly consult the numbers. The CPI grew at an average annual rate of 2.53 percent in the 12 months ending in October 2007. Inflation measured by the Core CPI—so named because it excludes energy and food, the two most volatile components of the price level—was at 2.37 percent, well below the Union’s 4-percent mark. Both of these numbers, you will note, are below the University’s three percent offer. The discrepancy between this data and the numbers provided by SOUL owes to the manner in which they are calculated. While both sets of numbers come from the same source, SOUL’s data simply measure the jump from 12 months ago until now, which leaves it vulnerable to huge fluctuations in any given month. For example, from October of last year to October 2007, inflation grew 4.7 percent, but from from January to January it was less than 1 percent. It is far more accurate to average each of the monthly totals over a 12-month span. When questioning SOUL members about the accuracy of the four percent, they insist that the cost of living in Chicago is rising faster than in the rest of the nation. This is also untrue: Headline CPI for the Chicago-Gary-Kenosha area grew at a 2.54-percent average annual rate, and Core CPI for the area estimated the inflation rate at just 1.95 percent.
We also published a counterpoint to Lees' op-ed the same issue. This piece only presents the same misleading data and bold, unsupported statements about what workers "deserve."The Maroon also ran a pro-union column in response to an unsigned editorial critical of the union. In this op-ed SOUL organizer Alex Moore says that the University should accept the union's offer because the $200,000 difference "is not much money to this institution" and "[e]ach of the University’s 13 officers earns more than [$200,000] annually."This is irrelevant. Let's say you make $100,000 annually; how much would you be willing to spend on a candy bar? Would you pay $10 for it, just because that's a small fraction of your income? Of course not."But," a union supporter might say, "candy bars don't have feelings. They don't have to pay rent. Clerical workers do." But what about candy bar makers? Don't they have make ends meet to?Overpaying--whether it's for a service or a product--isn't compassionate. It's irrational.