Unions Gain Popularity

America is a pro-union nation according to the Gallup poll published late in August.  Gallup found that 6 in 10 Americans support unions, and 37 percent want unions to have more influence.

Union approval dipped to a 60-year low of 48 percent in 2009, during the depths of the Great Recession.  Now, however, 58 percent give unions the thumbs up, and Gallup attributed the rise in union popularity to the economic recovery. 

Other research suggests the reason for the improved approval rating is American workers’ shared ideals with unions about current social controversies and the fight against increasing income inequality.

“We can’t be the movement that’s just about us.  The labor movement that workers flocked to by the tens of millions in the 1930s wasn’t known for negotiating 500-page contracts.  They were known for fighting for the eight-hour day, fighting to end child labor,” said SEIU vice president David Rolf when NPR interviewed him about the Fight for 15. 

Unions have fought for issues like equal pay for equal work and living wages for all full-time workers – issues that affect women, minorities, millenials and minimum-wage workers.  As a result, these groups feel an affinity to unions.

For example, unions have partnered with minimum wage workers and those earning slightly above minimum wage on campaigns to raise the minimum to at least $10 an hour. The slogan of many low-wage workers now is “$15 and a union.”

There is no study suggesting a specific correlation between the highest approval rate for unions in six years and their efforts to raise the federal minimum wage, but there is research conducted by Professors Bruce Western of Harvard University and Jake Rosenfeld of Washington University that shows “non-union workers in strongly unionized industries and areas enjoyed substantially higher pay.”

In a 2014 piece for the Seattle Times, Rosenfeld wrote: “Whether fighting for economic justice for low-income non-union workers, or seeking generous contracts for their own members, unions at their best work to raise the living standards for the vast majority of working Americans.”

After New York raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour in July, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stated in a press release that “all across America, working people are marching forward to raise wages in every way possible – in cities, states and at workplaces.  We need to raise wages for all working people together—our economy works best when wages rise for all of us.”

Women are a majority of the low-wage employees in the fast food, retail and cleaning industries. They’re also more likely to be unrepresented by a union, according to the Department of Labor.

Even so, unions are more popular with women than men, with 41 percent of women wishing unions had more influence, and 63 percent approving of unions.

That may be because unions fight for issues important to women such as paid maternity leave, closing the gender wage gap, and raising the minimum wage.

Young people, who also tend to be in lower wage jobs, also gave unions high approval ratings.  Gallup noted that when it comes to age, unions have received the most support from the youngest generation of workers, voters and activists – millenials.  So much so that even the majority of Republican 18 to 34-year-olds view labor unions favorably. 

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