Larson rewrote history to dispute Media Matters item documenting his falsehood on autoworker pay

››› ››› JOCELYN FONG & LAURYN BRUCK

Lars Larson responded to a November 22 Media Matters item by misrepresenting what he had said five days before about autoworkers' hourly compensation. Larson claimed on November 24, "[T]hey [Media Matters] were saying that if you count just what is being paid to the worker and to his pension and for his medical care, that it doesn't add up to $73 an hour and they're right, but that's not what I said. I said that the total cost of having that worker on the assembly line is over $73 an hour." In fact, as Media Matters documented, Larson falsely claimed on November 19 that American automakers are "paying $73.73 an hour to those people with salary and benefits."

During the November 24 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Lars Larson responded to a November 22 Media Matters for America item by misrepresenting what he had said five days before about autoworkers' hourly compensation. Larson stated of the Media Matters item, which included him among a group of media figures who had falsely asserted or suggested that U.S. autoworkers make $70 or more per hour: "They said that I was going on the air and telling things that were untrue by saying that the average worker at General Motors is costing General Motors $73 and change to put that person on the assembly line. ... [T]hey were saying that if you count just what is being paid to the worker and to his pension and for his medical care, that it doesn't add up to $73 an hour and they're right, but that's not what I said. I said the total cost of having that worker on the assembly line is over $73 an hour." In fact, as the audio and transcript included in the Media Matters item shows, Larson falsely claimed on November 19 that American automakers are "paying $73.73 an hour to those people with salary and benefits" -- he did not say that "the total cost" to General Motors and other U.S. auto manufacturers is $73 an hour for each worker they employ.

From the November 19 broadcast of Westwood One's The Lars Larson Show, as documented by Media Matters:

LARSON: When Detroit is making cars at $73 an hour to its line workers, its unskilled, high-school graduate workers, and I'm a high school graduate as well. When you're paying $73.73 an hour to those people with salary and benefits and your competition is paying $48 to its workers, you're going to get your butt kicked in the marketplace unfortunately.

By contrast, on his November 24 broadcast, Larson acknowledged that "[p]art of the cost is paying the retirement benefits of all the retired auto workers because that money was never set aside during the term of the contract." Indeed, as Media Matters has noted, according to GM, the $73 figure includes not only current workers' hourly wages and benefits, including health and retirement, but also retirement and health benefits that U.S. automakers are providing for current retirees.

Additionally, Bill Cunningham repeated the false assertion on the November 24 broadcast of his Cincinnati-based radio show that the "Big Three" automakers are paying workers more than $70 an hour. Cunningham suggested that "a typical UAW [United Auto Workers union] worker" is "making $75 an hour in wages and benefits." Later in the broadcast, he asked guest Rep.-elect Steve Driehaus (D-OH) if Democrats can "look the UAW in the eye" and say "you can't make 75 bucks an hour when Toyota's making 45."

Further, neither Larson nor Cunningham noted that the "Big Three" negotiated with the UAW in 2007 to significantly reduce the salary and benefits packages for certain new employees, cost reductions not reflected in the $73-per-hour and $75-per-hour figures. Bloomberg News reported in October 2007 that "[o]ver the life of the new accord [with GM], hourly base wages will start at $14 and rise to $15.30 for new hires such as forklift drivers and others not directly involved in making vehicles or parts. That compares with $28.12 for current employees, whose pay won't be cut." The negotiations also "create[d] a fund run by the union that will be responsible for 73 percent of GM's $64 billion in liability for retiree medical care."

From the November 24 broadcast of The Lars Larson Show:

LARSON: I'll tell you that over the weekend, I got word that Media Matters, which is the same group that has gone off after a number of different talk shows -- and you can expect them to continue to do that more. They'll be going after people like me and people like O'Reilly and others because of the things that we say. They targeted me over the weekend and here's why. They said that I was going on the air and telling things that were untrue by saying that the average worker at General Motors is costing General Motors $73 and change to put that person on the assembly line. The fact is I stand by those numbers. Now, here's the distinction that they would like to draw. They'd like to say that not all of that money goes directly to that worker into his pockets, and that's absolutely right, but I've made no secret of that.

The actual amount of salary that any one of those GM workers makes is about $31 -- $31 and change per hour. That's about $65,000 a year. The average Toyota worker's is about, salary, $28 or about $56,000 a year if you don't work any overtime. But the part they were raising Cain about was this: They were saying that if you count just what is being paid to the worker and to his pension and for his medical care, that it doesn't add up to $73 an hour, and they're right. But that's not what I said. I said the total cost of having that worker on the assembly line is over $73 an hour.

[...]

LARSON: For an auto worker, part of the cost of putting that auto worker on the line because of what the unions have pushed is money that doesn't go in his pocket. It's money that pays the 90 percent salary that is paid to workers to sit in a room in what's called a job bank, where they don't work at all but they simply collect money without performing any work and they get paid anyway. That's part of the cost. Part of the cost is paying their retirement benefits of all the retired auto workers because that money was never set aside during the term of the contract. Now it's being paid as one more cost of General Motors and Ford and Chrysler as well. So you have a number of costs to put that worker on the assembly line, but there's no debating the fact that because of the union requirements, it does cost $73 and change to put that auto worker on the line, because if you went to the union and said, "Listen, we'd love to put this guy on the line, we just don't want to pay for the job bank guys, the thousands of workers who are sitting around doing nothing," well, you don't get that choice. If you want the worker on the line, you have to pay for the job bank people who aren't doing anything. You also can't say, "We'd like to be able to put that worker on the assembly line making cars without paying for the retirement costs of previous workers," and you don't get that choice either. So I'm going to stand by those numbers, no matter what Media Matters has to say about me. I'm telling you the truth.

[...]

LARSON: When you talk about the cost of having an auto worker on the line, you can't just say, "What does he get as salary?" You have to include all of the costs, even if there are costs are not paid for him but are paid for his co-workers. If that's the total cost of putting a worker on a line, I don't care what Media Matters -- in fact, in some ways I take it as a compliment that Media Matters has attacked me on that one. I'll stick by my guns on that one. And I don't have to worry about the liberals because they don't believe in guns.

From the November 24 broadcast of Clear Channel's The Big Show with Bill Cunningham:

CUNNINGHAM: I want the middle class and auto workers to be saved somehow if at all possible, and those responsible need to get a haircut. And it may mean the retirees and the dependents don't have gold platinum health care anymore. It may mean there's 30 percent fewer auto workers. It may mean instead of making $75 an hour in wages and benefits, the typical UAW worker will make what a Toyota worker makes, which is about $45 an hour. That may happen. But whatever it takes, we must save the middle class in the Midwest to survive as the beacon of hope throughout the world.

[...]

DRIEHAUS: You can't just throw money at the problem unless the automotive industry is willing to come forward with a package that makes sense in terms of reform, in terms of moving them in the right direction. And I think that's what you heard from congressional leaders last week, was that we're not just gonna throw money at this. There has to be a plan in place before the assistance comes forward.

CUNNINGHAM: Well, Steve Driehaus, can you Democrats look the UAW in the eye, look the labor unions in the eye that helped get you guys elected and say, "The gravy train is over, you can't make 75 bucks an hour when Toyota's making 45"? Can you look the labor unions in the eye and say, "No more"?

DRIEHAUS: Look, this is gonna be squeezing everybody. It's gonna be retirees, it's gonna be employees, it's gonna be management. It's gonna be labor. Across the board, everybody's gonna have to sacrifice to fix this thing.

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