Middle-Class UAW? How About Upper-Class.
According to data from Chrysler, a UAW assembler earned $64,100 in monetary wages in 2006 (not including benefits), and a UAW electrician earned $74,800 in monetary wages. According to BLS data (available here from Economagic), the average manufacturing wage in mid-2006 was $16.78 per hour, meaning that the average manufacturing worker earned cash income $33,560 in 2006, or about half of a UAW worker.
Stated differently, a UAW assembler earned 91% more in monetary wages than the average worker in the manufacturing sector, and a UAW electrician earned 123% more in wages than the average manufacturing worker.
Moreover, there's been a lot of discussion lately about how "unions built the American middle class, and the middle class is what makes America run." But is a typical UAW worker really "middle class"?
Consider a married couple, both UAW workers, one assembler and one electrician, making a combined household income of $139,000 in 2006. Is that a "middle class" household? Hardly, it would be an upper class household, since that household income would put them close to being in the top 10% of American households (see 2005 data here, I'm assuming that UAW wages in 2005 would be comparable to 2006).
Considering that $44,389 was the median household income in 2005, even a single-earner UAW household would definitely be in the top (upper) half - a UAW assembler earning $64,100 would be in top 35%, and a UAW electrician earning $74,800 would have been in the top 28%.
This is actually a tribute to the amazing success of the UAW - it was able to not just build a middle-class of autoworkers, it was actually able to elevate its members from the middle class into the upper-income class, even though most UAW workers had (have) only a high school degree. Unfortunately, that success could not be sustained in the long-run, and UAW wages have to come to back down to realistic levels, e.g. the $16.78 average hourly wage that prevails in the rest of the manufacturing sector, before the wages push the Big Three into bankruptcy. Is there anything so special about auto assembly manufacturing work that it justifies a 91% premium over the rest of the manufacuring sector? I don't think so.