slides: Rhode Island’s Highest Paid Union Bosses
Monday, June 01, 2015
That's what a GoLocalProv review of the pay of Rhode Island’s top union bosses revealed. According to data culled from the Federal Department of Labor, there are 42 union leaders in the state of Rhode Island who make more than $100,000 in salary and other disbursements (but not including benefits costs).
Unions are required to file reports on a yearly basis with the federal government that details pertinent information about each union’s finances. The reports detail the salaries of the highest paid leaders of each union. Like other entities such as corporations, municipalities, and non-profits, unions often operate on differing fiscal years. Therefore, the latest information might reference a particular union’s leader’s pay for the year 2014, or 2013, depending on when a given union’s fiscal year ends.
(It should be noted that these union officials referenced are paid by their union organizations for their work. Some union members may very well make more than their leaders, but they’re paid by the government or the companies they work for.)
The Top 5
Overall, there were 14 union officials from the NEA-RI and the RI-AFT who made more than $100,000 during their last reporting period—easily the most represented group on the list.
But it wasn’t just teacher’s union officials who made the highest salaries for the state’s union leaders. Rounding out the list of the top 5 were Michael Sabitoni, a business manager from the Laborer’s union who earned 179,648; Scott Gustaffson, a Director of the Laborer’s Union who made $173,311; and James White, the President of the Operating Engineers Union, who made $150,072 in salary and “disbursements for official business”.
In sum, the 42 highest paid union officials in Rhode Island earned roughly $5.3 million. According to the latest census data, the state of Rhode Island’s median income is $30,469. The state’s median household income is $56,361.
Big Pay, Big Responsibility Too
According to D. Scott Molloy, a University of Rhode Island Professor of Labor Relations and former union representative himself for the Transit Workers when he was younger (he was a bus driver while pursuing his PHD at Providence College), the salaries and benefits paid to union leaders might seem large to the average person, but people should keep in mind that the union leaders in question are essentially high level management positions with a tremendous amount of responsibility.
Molloy said that the labor movement flourished in the years and decades after the end of World War II. The head of the auto workers unions in Detroit after the war, he said, would in some cases represent 25,000 people. That’s a job with a huge responsibility, and therefore command a large salary, he said.
Over the last 2-3 decades, he said, have seen labor leaders earning the salaries of management professionals.
“It really all depends upon the industry that the union represents, the size of the union, and the amount of responsibility that the person has,” said Molloy in reference to the question as to how the salaries are justified.
“These union leaders, in some cases, represent thousands of people, and are responsible for negotiating huge sums of money,” he said.
Molloy said while some union leaders earn more than the members they represent, there’s another way to look at it as well. In most cases, especially with respect to businesses, the union leaders earn far less than the CEO’s they negotiate with. But Molloy quickly pointed out that that’s not a fair comparison either since the business executives have an entirely different set of responsibilities as well.
Molloy also pointed out that it shouldn’t be overly surprising that the labor leaders who represent the unions that demand the most skills, such as teachers or engineers have leaders who make the most salaries, since their members can afford to pay them more.
Justin Katz, a research director for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a free-market think tank located here in Rhode Island. Katz took more of an issue with the large salaries of union bosses than Molloy.
Katz pointed out that the list of high earning union bosses was comprised of many public sector union leaders. That’s problematic to Katz, as he believes it creates a system that is more oriented towards capturing taxpayer dollars than encouraging productivity.
“In the public sector in Rhode Island, unions have a near-monopoly on employment with the government. Agencies with jobs have to go through unions, and professionals seeking jobs have to go through unions,” said Katz via email.
“The unions then lobby to funnel money to their members' agencies and to make it difficult to reduce costs.”
Katz pointed out that the unions don’t hire workers, but through negotiation, sets the terms for employment before an individual is hired.
“It's not surprising at all that much of the cash flows to the organizers,” said Katz.
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