CNN Truth Squad: How much do unions cost taxpayers?

The statement:
"We've seen these battles on the state level where unions have bankrupted states from pension plans to here on the federal level. Thirty to 40%, union employees make above their private sector equivalents. I do not believe that state, federal or local workers ... should be involved in unions."
-- Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, in Thursday night's Republican presidential debate on Fox News.
The facts:
-- Overall, unionized workers do earn more than non-union counterparts, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Median weekly earnings for full-time union members were $917 in 2010, compared to $717 for non-union workers, the BLS reported in January.
-- The AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, says union members make about 30% more than non-union workers. They also are more likely to be covered by health insurance and retirement plans, according to the BLS.
-- And public employees are far more likely to be in unions. Fewer than 7% of private-sector employees were union members in 2010, compared to 36% for government employees, according to the BLS.
-- A BLS report in June found private industry spent an average of $28.13 per hour on wages and benefits, compared to $40.40 for state and local government employees. But it noted that public and private-sector costs "should not be directly compared," as they involved many differences in the types of jobs. Many private-sector employees hold sales and manufacturing jobs not often seen in government, for example, while jobs like teachers make up a greater share of public payrolls.
-- While not quite "bankrupted," as Santorum put it, states, cities and counties are struggling with issues like pension costs as their own revenues have been hard-hit by the 2007-2009 recession and its ongoing hangover, according to the non-profit, non-partisan Center for State and Local Government Excellence, a Washington-based think tank that focuses on public employee pay.
-- And while union workers make more in general than non-union workers, a new report from the center found that when total wages and benefits for public employees lag slightly behind private-sector workers, by about 4%. Public pensions and health benefits are more generous, but public employees are more likely to have college degrees and make less than comparable private-sector workers, the study found.
The verdict:
True, but incomplete. Overall, union workers earn more than non-unionized employees, and public employees earn more on average than private-sector workers. But analysts say an apples-to-apples comparison is difficult due to differing occupations, and that many educated workers could make more in the private sector than in government jobs.
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