Misinformation about autoworkers' hourly compensation resurfaces on Hardball
Research ››› ››› ANDREW WALZER
On Hardball, guest host Mike Barnicle did not challenge the false claim by Republican strategist Todd Harris that union autoworkers earn "70, $75 an hour," a claim also recently made on Hardball by a Heritage Foundation fellow and echoed by host Chris Matthews.
During the November 24 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Republican strategist Todd Harris falsely asserted that union autoworkers earn "70, $75 an hour." Harris' claim -- which echoed the false assertion by host Chris Matthews on November 20 that members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) "negotiate for their salaries, and they're getting 70 bucks" -- was not challenged or rebutted by guest host Mike Barnicle. According to GM, the figure Harris cited includes not only current workers' hourly wages and benefits, including health care and retirement, but also retirement and health-care benefits that U.S. automakers are providing for retirees, as Media Matters for America has noted.
During the Hardball segment, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon asserted, "[B]efore you go after the guy making 25 bucks an hour, you ought to squeeze a little out of the guy making 25 million for taking his company into the tank." Harris replied, in part: "Well, I don't disagree. Well, first of all, they don't make 25 bucks an hour. They make a heck of a lot more than that in Detroit." Moments later, McMahon said of Harris, "This is the first time I've really heard anybody blame the guy making 25 or 30 or even $35 an hour for the economic collapse on Wall Street," at which point Harris interjected, "Or 70, $75 an hour."
Earlier in the segment, Harris said, "The UAW designed the contracts that are crippling from legacy costs. And, you know, it costs between 30 and 40 percent more in labor costs for Detroit to make a car than it costs for Toyota to make a car right here in the United States." But Harris did not acknowledge that these "legacy costs" -- medical benefits and pensions paid to retirees -- are included in the "70, $75 an hour" figure that he cited later on, falsely claiming this is what the average auto worker "make[s]."
As Media Matters noted, Hardball is one of several media outlets that are advancing the false claim that auto workers make $70 per hour or more. It is a claim promoted by some media conservatives who blame auto workers for the domestic auto industry's financial straits.
From the November 24 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
BARNICLE: All right, let me ask you this, Todd. Who designed the cars? Did the UAW design these cars that nobody wants to buy?
HARRIS: No. The UAW designed the contracts that are crippling from legacy costs. And, you know, it costs between 30 and 40 percent more in labor costs for Detroit to make a car than it costs for Toyota to make a car right here in the United States. And that's all because of these crippling union contracts.
BARNICLE: And, Steve, that does lead to a potential problem for the incoming Obama administration, the need to step up to the unions and say, "Listen, we know you've given back a lot in your new contract, but you're going to have to give back even more right now for retirees who are on pay-less health benefits for their lives, and had the -- all of that stuff."
I mean, doesn't it present a problem?
McMAHON: Well, it presents a challenge, but I don't think it presents a problem.
I mean, basically, the wealthy in this country have feasted at the banquet table of lower taxes, and the middle class has paid the bill. And I think, you know, to get back to Todd's point -- or to get back to your point, Mike, this is a little bit of class warfare, because you have these CEOs coming to town -- and I'm not singling out the auto industry, because I don't think that they're any worse than anybody else -- coming to town with their -- in their private jets with their huge salaries, and they're essentially saying, "We need billions and billions of taxpayer dollars."
And you've got the guy who's making 25 bucks an hour on the line, and Todd's sitting there blaming him for the problem. He's not the problem.
And frankly, in this country, one of the reasons we have a union movement is so that people can afford to buy the automobiles that they make. That was Henry Ford's vision. It wasn't the vision of labor. It was the vision of the owner of the company: "The people who make my cars ought to be able to afford to buy them."
I think that's the right vision, and I think Senator Obama -- President-elect Obama agrees with me, and I think the majority of Americans do as well. And, you know, it's -- before it's -- before you go after the guy making 25 bucks an hour, you ought to squeeze a little out of the guy making 25 million for taking his company into the tank.
BARNICLE: Todd, are you going to sit there and take that big-time dis?
HARRIS: Well, I don't disagree. Well, first of all, they don't make 25 bucks an hour. They make a heck of a lot more than that in Detroit.
MCMAHON: OK, 30.
HARRIS: But I don't disagree. Hang the management out to dry, but we have got to have these union contracts on the table if we're going to talk about any realistic bailout for Detroit.
McMAHON: This is the first time -- I've got to tell you, I've been listening to the commentary for a long time. This is the first time I've really heard anybody blame the guy making 25 or 30 or even $35 an hour for the economic collapse on Wall Street. And I've -- and it's the first time I've heard anybody seriously suggest --
HARRIS: Or 70, $75 an hour.
McMAHON: It's the first time I've ever heard anybody seriously suggest that by penalizing them, you're going to fix the problem.
I -- normally -- Todd's a smart guy, but he doesn't believe this.
BARNICLE: No, we've got class warfare going on right here.
HARRIS: I'm not talking about the problem -- I'm not talking about the problem on Wall Street. I'm talking about the problem in Detroit here. We're talking about bailouts. And if we're going to bail out Detroit, then the union -- those union contracts have got to be on the table.
BARNICLE: Well, thank God we separated you two guys tonight. You're going to come to blows.