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U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez says a union job is a ticket to the middle class.
"If you are a member of a union, your median weekly income is roughly $200 more than if you are a nonunion member, and that doesn’t include benefits," Perez said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, prior to headlining the Democratic Party of Virginia’s Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner on June 18.
We wondered if Perez’s figure is correct. Mattie Munoz, a spokeswoman for the labor secretary, said the information comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which which tracks the earnings of union and nonunion workers.
The bureau examines "median" earnings - the halfway point at which 50 percent of workers make less and 50 percent of workers earn more.
In 2015, the median weekly earnings for people who are a member of a union was $980, according to the bureau’s most current figures. For nonunion members, the median weekly pay was $776. That’s a $204 difference and in line with Perez’s claim.
Gary Burtless, a labor economist at the Brookings Institution, told our colleagues at PolitiFact National in a 2014 story that unions typically do a better job of raising wages for workers with less-than-average education than they do for those with higher levels of education.
Someone who has a doctoral degree, for example, probably wouldn’t get as much of a pay bump from being in a union, but they might have better job security as well as better health and retirement benefits than their nonunion colleagues, Burtless said.
Another table from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which further breaks down the pay disparity among specific occupations, shows that unionized workers in some professions earn less than their nonunion colleagues.
In the architecture and engineering fields, for example, workers in a union last year had a median weekly pay of $1,393, but that was outpaced by nonunion workers who earned $1,427 each week. Federal employees who are in a union earn a median weekly pay of $1,058, while those not in a union earn more: $1,159 each week.
But for other government employees, the story is different, with unions typically leading to larger paychecks.
Across the country, state employees in a union earned a $988 median weekly salary, while nonunion workers earned a median $867. Unionized local government workers earned a median weekly salary of $1,043, compared with nonunion local government employees who earned $783 a week.
This isn’t the first time Perez has made this claim, although he’s changed the wording. PolitiFact National in 2014 noted that the labor secretary said the "average" union member makes $200 more than a nonunion employee. That was rated Mostly True, since the figures involved instead are a tally of the "median" weekly pay rather than "average" pay.
Perez said that a union member’s median weekly income is about $200 more than someone who is not in a union.
His figure, on the whole, holds up, although there are some professions that are exceptions. But Perez clearly was talking in general terms.
So we rate his statement True.
Comments by Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Interview with Mattie Munoz, press secretary for Thomas Perez, June 22, 2016.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Union members summary," Jan. 28, 2016.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Table 4. Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by union affiliation, occupation and industry," accessed June 21, 2016.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Table 2. Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by union affiliation and selected characteristics," accessed June 21, 2016.
Email from David Card, economics professor at the University of California Berkeley, June 22, 2016.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Employee benefits in the United States," July 24, 2015.
PolitiFact, "Labor Secretary Thomas Perez says union members earn $200 more a week than those not in unions," Feb. 7, 2014.
Wall Street Journal, "Closer look at union vs. nonunion workers’ wages," Dec. 17, 2012.
PolitiFact, "MSNBC’s Ed Schultz: When union membership goes down, so do (middle class) wages," Feb. 18, 2014.
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