With 24 states now passing right-to-work legislation, and with more Republican-leaning states like Ohio wanting to follow suit with work laws that are dubious at best about whether they increase jobs or decrease wages, it seems surprising that a majority of Americans still approve of labor unions.
Gallup released a survey on Monday, official Labor Day for 2013, that showed that 54 percent approve of labor unions, a slight increase from 52 percent just last year and six percentage points above the all-time low observed in 2009. On the other side of the equation, 39 percent disapprove of labor unions. The current reading is eight points below the historical average of 62% in Gallup's trend dating back to 1936.
Gallup polled a random sample of 2,059 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. States and the District of Columbia with telephone interviews conducted Aug. 7-11, 2013 and said, with 95 percent confidence, that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
A majority is good, but once upon a time a big majority, as many as 72 percent, said they approved. Gallup reported that labor union approval reached an all-time high of 75 percent in 1953 and 1957. Approval remained above 60 percent through the end of the 1960s, and then declined a little during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and most of the 2000s. In 2009 approval fell to an all-time low of 48 percent during President Obama's first term in office. Gallup opines that this drop may have been a "backlash against a Democratic administration that some feared would overly empower labor unions." Since then, it said, labor union approval has remained at bare majority levels.
Not surprisingly, relatively few Republicans (34%) approve of labor organizations, while three-quarters of Democrats (75%) do. Americans living in the South, the region with the least labor union presence, are less likely to approve of labor unions (47%) than are those living in other regions.
Nineteen percent of respondents report that either they or another household member belongs to a labor union, with 8 percent saying they personally belong, 9 percent saying another household member belongs, and 2 percent saying they and at least one other household member belong.
Gallup reported that the percentage of households in which a union member lives has shown little fluctuation since 2003, ranging from 16-19 percent, slightly lower in 2002, at 14 percent.
Gallup says Americans' outlook for unions bleak
Given that fewer than 20 percent of households have a labor union member, it is not surprising that 52 percent of Americans believe labor unions will become weaker in the future. Twenty-one percent believes unions will stay the same in terms of influence, and 22 percent believe they will become stronger.
More Americans have said labor unions will grow weaker than stronger in the future since the question was first asked in 1999, and a majority has consistently said so since 2011, Gallup reported.
Meanwhile, it appears Americans are divided on whether labor unions should have more influence or less influence: 38 percent would prefer that they have less influence, while almost 33 percent would instead like them to have more. An additional 25 percent say labor unions should have the same amount of influence that they have today.
History shows that labor unions were a crucial part of the movement to create Labor Day, a holiday created by President Chester Arthur. President William Howard Taft put labor at the table when he created the U.S. Department of Labor in 1913.
Even though, President Taft [2009-1913], a Republican, made labor a part of his Cabinet, contemporary Republicans have little regard or respect for unions, which they see as major funders for Democratic candidates. What unions ought to be worrying about, Gallup says, is that for unions and their supporters is that over half of Americans say unions will become weaker in the future. Successful efforts to weaken union power, such as the recent passage of "right to work" legislation in Michigan and Indiana, may be contributing to this sense that unions are in decline.
So far, 24 states have laws supporting the concept of right-to-work, which has nothing to do with working, but does prohibit union security agreements, or agreements between labor unions and employers, that govern the extent to which an established union can require employees' membership, payment of union dues, or fees as a condition of employment, either before or after hiring
Proponents of right-to-work argue that data supports the argument that right-to-work laws economically strengthen the places where they are implemented.
Opponents of right-to-work laws argue they create a race to the bottom that leads to lower wages and worse safety and health conditions for workers.
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