Americans Are Liking Unions More And More, New Poll Shows

Americans have taken an increasingly positive view of labor unions over the past decade, with 71% now saying they approve of them in a new Gallup poll.

That’s the highest favorability rating Gallup has seen for organized labor since 1965.

The affirmative view of unions comes amid a burst of workplace organizing at previously non-union employers, such as Amazon, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Apple, REI and Chipotle. An increasing number of workers are filing petitions to hold union elections, and unions are winning more elections now than they have in nearly two decades.

Approval of labor unions peaked at 75% in the 1950s, the same time union density was at its highest, according to Gallup data. At the time, around a third of all U.S. workers belonged to a union.

Union favorability reached its lowest point on record in the wake of the Great Recession when fewer than half of those polled approved of unions. People’s view of organized labor often goes up and down with the economy. Their favorability has been on an ascent since 2009.

“A tight labor market has shifted some bargaining power back to workers, while the experience of toiling through a pandemic has made many workers more interested in bargaining collectively.”

Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, which includes 57 unions, cheered the new findings.

“After a year of victorious strikes, record union election filings, and relentless efforts from corporate billionaires to silence workers, today comes as no surprise,” Shuler wrote on Twitter Tuesday.

Around 10% of all U.S. workers belong to unions these days, and the rate is even lower in the private sector, at just 6.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those numbers track with Gallup’s findings showing just 16% of adults surveyed live in a home where there is a union member. Gallup said that number has fluctuated between 14% and 21% since 2001.

Unions have struggled to turn their numbers around for decades, facing political attacks from the right and aggressive anti-union campaigns from employers. But the atmosphere right now is probably the most promising labor unions have seen in years.

Low unemployment and a tight labor market have shifted some bargaining power back to workers, while the experience of toiling through a pandemic appears to have made many workers more interested in bargaining collectively.

Gallup’s findings showed that Americans broadly view unions as important to “fixing our nation’s broken workplace – where most workers have little power or agency at work,” according to a post from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute’s Working Economics Blog.

“The pandemic merely exposed these decades-old anti-worker dynamics,” wrote Celine McNicholas and Eve Tahmincioglu in the post. “Clearly, as the new poll and recent data on strikes and union organizing shows, workers today are rejecting these dynamics and awakening to the benefits of unions.”

“The National Labor Relations Board says union elections petitions increased 58% through the first half of this fiscal year when compared to 2021.”

Unions have notched historic victories in recent months. Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, delivered a stunning upset this spring when they voted to join the new and independent Amazon Labor Union. Meanwhile, the campaign known as Starbucks Workers United has unionized more than 200 of the coffee chain’s stores around the country since December.

The National Labor Relations Board says union elections petitions increased 58% through the first half of this fiscal year when compared to 2021.

Gallup asked respondents what was important to them as union members, and the top answer was better pay and benefits (65%), followed by workplace rights and representation (57%). Forty-two percent cited job security.

Despite the high approval rating, many respondents who aren’t in unions told Gallup they were not eager to join one. A majority of non-union workers – 58% – said they have no interest at all in becoming a union member. Only 11% said they were “extremely” interested in doing so.

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