Union approval rating hits 56-year high

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Approval of Labor unions at highest point since 1965

By TIM ROWDEN
Managing Editor

APPROVAL OF UNIONS among American workers is at its highest point since 1965. – Getty Images photo

Sixty-eight percent of Americans approve of Labor unions – a 56-year high – according to the latest Gallup poll.

Gallup has measured the public’s rating of Labor unions periodically since 1936 and annually since 2001, and more Americans have expressed approval than disapproval in every reading.

“It’s a great point of pride that the rest of the country so strongly supports what we in Organized Labor have always known,” said Jake Hummel, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO: “Unions advocate on behalf of all workers to provide essential workplace protections and living wages.”

According to Gallup’s annual Work and Education poll conducted Aug. 2-17, 2021:

  • 68 percent approve of Labor unions, the highest since 1965.
  • 90 percent of Democrats approve of unions.
  • 47 percent of Republicans approve of unions.
  • Labor union membership remains steady at nine percent of U.S. adults.

Union membership has been on the decline for decades, from 20.1 percent of the workforce in 1983 to 10.3 percent in 2019. But that may be about to change.

In 2018, researchers at MIT found that approximately 48 percent of nonunion workers would join a union if they could — representing some 58 million workers and nearly half of the nonunion workforce.

As wealth inequality continues to rise and workers have recognized the very real risks they’re asked to take to their health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, more are seeing unions as their best and maybe only, chance to improve their wages, benefits and work conditions.

“It’s no surprise that after enduring years of attacks under the last Administration, working men and women are joining unions to protect their safety, health and wages,” said Merri Berry, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO. “With the continuing economic and health risks presented by the pandemic,  it’s never been more important for working people to band together to protect themselves and their families. We’ve always known the power of unions, and this poll proves a majority of Americans agree.“

“People are tired of not having a voice in the work place and unions give that to them,” said Pat White, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council. “People see their friends and family members with a voice and a well-paid, well-benefitted job and know that it’s the union that was able to negotiate that.”

PANDEMIC EFFECT
The COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the early stages when unions stepped up to demand protections for workers on the front lines of the pandemic, may have served as a bellwether moment for workers wanting more of a voice and more protections on the job.

“We are stronger together than we are apart,” said John Stiffler, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council. “We know our unions have always fought for better wages and safer workplaces, so to see the general public starting to recognize that again is encouraging.”

Some of the biggest supporters of unions, according to the Gallup survey, are young workers, many of whom grew up hearing about unions fighting for the middle class, but who have seen the standard of living their parents enjoyed slip through their grasp without union representation. Among 18-34-year-olds, 77 percent supported unions, according to the survey.

Among low-income workers, many of whom have seen unions work to organize their workplaces and fight for things like a $15 minimum wage, unions had a 72 percent approval rating.

AN OPPORTUNITY
David Cook, president of UFCW Local 655, and a vice president of the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, says it will be up Labor leaders to build on the current high approval of Labor unions to effect real change.

“It’s not surprising to see approval of Labor unions growing,” Cook said. “Workers have been taken advantage of for decades. The reality, though, is that with that type of approval it now lays directly at the feet of the Labor leaders like myself to find a way to move that approval of Labor unions into growing Labor unions, and we can ill afford not to do whatever is in our power to grow on the strength of that approval to build our power today.

“We may not have another chance like this for another 65 years,” Cook said. “This could be another period like the 1930s, and the leaders of that generation grew the Labor unions to what they were at their height. Whether it means working with elected officials to improve the laws governing Labor unions or approaching that in some other way, this will be the legacy of today’s Labor leaders – how we deal with this moment.”


 

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