In honor of Labor Day, inquiring minds are interested in a Gallup Survey on public support of unions. Please consider Labor Unions See Sharp Slide in U.S. Public Support.

Gallup finds organized labor taking a significant image hit in the past year. While 66% of Americans continue to believe unions are beneficial to their own members, a slight majority now say unions hurt the nation’s economy. More broadly, fewer than half of Americans — 48%, an all-time low — approve of labor unions, down from 59% a year ago.

Approve Or Disapprove?

Public reaction to labor unions is one of the longest-running trends The Gallup Poll has maintained. Gallup first asked “Do you approve or disapprove of labor unions?” in 1936, a year after Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act establishing the right of most private-sector employees to join unions, to bargain collectively with their employers, and to strike. That first poll found 72% of Americans approving of unions and only 20% disapproving.

While approval of unions has declined since 2008 among most major demographic and political groups, the biggest drop has been among political independents.

Stats By Party ID

Americans’ most negative assessments of unions — as has typically been the case — involve their impact on non-union workers. More than 6 in 10 Americans, up from about half in 2006, say unions mostly hurt non-union workers.

Americans living in union households and those in non-union households have sharply different assessments of unions’ impact on each of the four dimensions mentioned above. However, the widest gap is in perceptions of unions’ impact on the companies where workers are unionized. Of adults living in union households (representing 18% of all U.S. adults), 7 in 10 believe unions help the companies; only 39% of residents living in non-union households agree.

Bottom Line

This year’s Gallup update on views toward unions comes in the midst of an economic recession, and in the aftermath of major economic interventions by the U.S. government on behalf of two of the Big Three domestic auto companies.

The update also comes as the Employee Free Choice Act — a proposal to significantly change collective bargaining laws — is still under consideration by Congress. If passed as originally proposed, the bill would most likely make it easier for unions to organize. In fact, proponents of EFCA (who feel the current system is stacked against unions) say that’s the intent. However, those changes may be going against the tide of public opinion, which currently is at a historically low ebb for unions.

There are 9 charts in the article so it’s well worth a closer look.

The trends seem to show people are getting increasingly fed up with unions even as Obama himself is clearly leaning the other way. Certainly the defined benefit pension plans of public workers are nothing short of outrageous as well as one of the primary reasons many states and municipalities are in deep fiscal trouble. Waning support of unions is a good thing.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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