One of the great stories of 2017 is that despite what the business community would have us believe, 61 percent of adults in the U.S. say they approve of labor unions. This is the highest approval rating since the 65 percent approval recorded in 2003. And currently, the labor union approval is up five percentage points from last year, according to polling by Gallup.
Historically, unions have enjoyed strong support from the American public. In 1936, 72 percent of Americans approved of labor unions. Union approval peaked in the 1950’s when it reached 75 percent in 1953 and 1957.
It’s impressive that despite consistent efforts to undermine the union movement by ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce, the same poll showed that Republicans' approval of unions rose since last year, possibly due to the presidency of Republican Donald Trump.
Even among young Republicans, 55 percent of those younger than 30 looked favorably on unions, compared to 32 percent of those 50 and older. Meanwhile, 49 percent Republicans without a college degree favored unions, compared to 28 percent of college-educated Republicans.
The same poll showed that 39 percent of Americans would like unions to have more influence--the highest figure recorded in the 18 years Gallup has surveyed this question.
For the past 80 years, unions have been an integral part of the American labor force. Since 1936, shortly after Congress legalized private sector unions and collective bargaining, U.S. adults have approved, sometimes overwhelmingly, of labor unions. Ten percent of Americans report personally being a union member, while 16 percent live in a union household, according to the poll.
The United Steelworkers, which represent 850,000 U.S. workers, issued this statement:
“It is gratifying to see that the popularity of unions has risen 13 points since 2009, particularly when wealthy, right-wing groups like ALEC and the State Policy Network are working every day to crush unions. The USW, the AFL-CIO and all of its member unions will continue working to end income inequality and improve the lives of all workers by ensuring they receive a fair share of the bounty created by their labor."
When given the choice free from employer intimidation and anti-union messaging, unions win the day with workers, and why wouldn’t they? They give workers a say in things like decent raises, affordable healthcare, safer workplaces, job security, and a stable schedule.
Industries leaders big and small would benefit from having someone to talk to across the table. We can only hope that these promising new poll numbers will lead the way to greater worker access to unions and fairer distribution of wages and benefits.