Accuracy in Media

As Accuracy in Media has documented, The New York Times has a strong history of defending unions and union bosses. An article published on April 12, 2011, followed this Times tradition by glorifying union boss Gerald W. McEntee, leader of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The Times simultaneously used selective quotation throughout the article to denigrate Republican efforts to curb spending.

Featured in the Business section of The Times, the article, “Gerald McEntee Energized by Anti-Union Movement,” makes boss McEntee out to be a hero. This is done through word choice and careful use of phrasing throughout the article.

The word choice in the article, while subtle, definitely advances a pro-union and pro-McEntee agenda. “Public sector unions” are “under attack.” Wisconsin and Ohio laws will “cripple” the “rights” of union members, “jeopardizing” the union’s income stream and “political clout.” McEntee’s union is under “assault” in New Jersey and Florida, states attempting to “curb bargaining rights or achieve far-reaching concessions” on “health benefits and pensions.”

When The Times uses words like “attack” and “assault” to describe the way in which state governments are attempting to mitigate union influence on the economy, that word choice indicates that unions are the victim. In reality, while unions may be victims here, so also may be non-union workers, who make up a far larger percentage of overall workers in the United States: In 2010, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 11.9% of American workers were unionized—leaving 88.1% of American workers un-unionized.

As Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels points out in this interview with NPR, collective bargaining through unions often does a disservice to not just the state and private workers, but union workers themselves. In the interview, Daniels tells of a time when he cut millions of dollars from the Indiana budget by changing how the state prepared meals for prisoners. “We could not have done this, by the way, with the collective bargaining agreement that we found when we got there,” Daniels said. He went on to explain why he found it necessary to cut union ability to bargain collectively (emphasis added):

You couldn’t, uh, change the personnel rules. We wanted to pay — we do pay — the best workers a whole lot more, as you would in most enterprises, than the worst workers. We wanted to change technology. We wanted to be able to, uh, reorganize government — that child protection step that I took, the actual first step was to, uh, carve out of a monstrous multi-purpose bureaucracy a new Department of Child Services that had one job, and one job only – reports directly to me to protect the lives of innocent children in Indiana. We couldn’t have done any of these things under the collective bargaining arrangement — you could barely move a Xerox machine from one room to the other without the union’s permission.

Indeed, even The Times recognizes that minimizing union power in Indiana proved better for union workers: “90 percent of [Indiana] state employees stopped paying dues after Governor Mitch Daniels ended bargaining for them in 2005,” the article admits. If union members were the real victims here, one would think more workers would voluntarily pay dues after being given the opportunity to opt out.

It could be misleading for The Times to use violent rhetoric like “assault” and “attack” in reference to efforts to minimize collective bargaining power. While words like that make unions and union members out to be victims, in reality, union members could just as easily be victims of unions themselves.

The Times article goes on quote McEntee in such a way that implies that unions and jobs are not related—while also bashing Republicans:

“The Republicans who were elected last November promised to focus on jobs, but instead they’re focusing on going after the unions,” Mr. McEntee said. “That’s a big overreach.”

However, as the Daniels interview indicates, McEntee’s logic is flawed. Unions and overall jobs are entwined, and to pretend they are not is misleading. Unions by their very nature influence who gets hired, where, and how much they are paid—two things that highly affect jobs for both union and non-union workers. This article, courtesy of The Heritage Foundation, explains how union presence affects jobs for both union workers and everyone else.

It is arguably misleading that The Times did not further elaborate on McEntee’s flawed claim that unions and jobs are not connected. This article analyzing the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2009 numbers shows that there is at least a correlation between unionization and unemployment: the more workers are unionized, the fewer workers there are (and the more unemployment there is). Of course, correlation does not imply causation, but McEntee seems to deny even correlation. The 2010 numbers can be found here, and current unemployment statistics found here, for comparison.

James Sherk of The Heritage Foundation explains how unions have affected jobs in America (click on the link to read his references):

Unions Cause Job Losses. The balance of economic research shows that unions do not just happen to organize firms with more layoffs and less job growth: They cause job losses. Most studies find that jobs drop at newly organized companies, with employment falling between 5 percent and 10 percent.

The Times’ chose to selectively quote McEntee as implying that jobs and unions are not correlated, and further, The Times neglected to present the facts that McEntee denies. This is misleading to Times readers.

As long as The New York Times persists in presenting flawed and biased stories on unions, the publication cannot be considered “accurate.”

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