AP Coverage of Govt. Union Membership Report 'Somehow' Omits Organized Percentage of Public Sector

I was reading Associated Press reporter Sam Hananel's coverage ("Unions see sharp membership declines again") of Uncle Sam's latest report on union membership, and I came to this paragraph about what happened with private-sector union representation in 2010:

Union membership in the private sector fell from 7.2 percent to 6.9 percent, a low point not seen since the infancy of the labor movement in the 1930s. The steepest decline was seen in the construction industry, where unemployment remains around 20 percent.

Naturally, I expected to see Hananel's reportage next address what happened in the public sector. As you'll see, readers only got half of what they should have been told:

Public employment unions saw a 1.2 percent decline, mostly from job cuts among state and local government workers. Those unions could see further declines this year, as states eliminate jobs in an effort to make up multibillion-dollar budget deficits.

Okay Sam, but what is the percentage of overall public sector union representation?

It would appear that Mr. Hananel would rather the AP's readers, listeners and viewers not know that public-sector union representation (36.2%) is over five times higher than it is in the private sector (source data):

PrivateAndPublicUnionMembership2010

Hananel had to consciously avoid reporting the overall statistic for public union representation, because it's the very first highlight in the actual report issued by the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics:

BLSunionReportHighlights2010

The AP reporter told readers about Items 3 and 4 above, but "somehow" missed Item 1. Amazing.

Mr. Hananel reveals a bit of his bias in the following paragraph:

Last year was the first time that public employees made up a majority of all union workers. Unlike private employers, government offices do not hire outside consultants to help them fend off union organizers. But newly elected governors and lawmakers in Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and other states are backing legislation that would make government offices less union-friendly.

I don't want to pretend that outside union-prevention consultants aren't a factor, but there are several other more important reasons why public employee unions make up a majority (51.8%) of the nation's workers. The most obvious is that governments generally don't go out of business. Companies can and do go out of business, very often because inflexible labor contracts have tied their hands. Just as obvious: Governments, at least until recently, have blithely passed on the cost of their excessive labor contracts and opulent future promises to taxpayers, who generally haven't paid as much attention as they should have.

Hananel picks on Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida, all of which "just so happen" to have new Republican governors. Yet this passage from a Honolulu report indicates that it isn't only new Republicans who are concerned about the high costs of public-sector unions:

(New Demcratic Hawaii Governor Neil) Abercrombie has already laid down parameters that may crimp lawmakers' ability to make ends meet. The governor, after all, has said he will not raise the general excise tax, will not take from the counties' share of the transient accommodations tax, will not implement furloughs, will not delay tax refunds and will not cut warm bodies.
Yet, other new Democratic governors from California to Illinois to New York are looking at those very things. In addition to tax increases, on the table are sacred cows like reductions in spending on education and cuts to public employee union benefits.

Gosh, Sam, how did you miss that? (/sarc)

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.