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While Americans have mixed views of unions, public sector organizing suffers setback

While Americans have mixed views of unions, public sector organizing suffers setback

The decline in the number of Americans represented by labor unions is seen more negatively than positively by U.S. adults, according to a new survey released by the Pew Research Center. Fifty-five percent of Americans have a favorable impression of unions, with a similar number—53 percent—viewing business corporations favorably.

Decreasing unionization. In 2017, only 10.7 percent of wage and salaried workers in the United States were labor union members, down from 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year for which comparable data are available, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unionization in the U.S. peaked at more than 34% in 1954, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Partisanship. Fifty-one percent of Americans say the large reduction in union representation has been mostly bad for working people in the U.S., while 35 percent say it has been mostly good, the survey found. Partisanship, which has long been a major factor in public attitudes about labor unions, was also apparent in the new survey, which revealed that 68 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the reduction in union membership has been mostly bad for working people, compared to half as many Republicans and Republican leaners, with 34 percent saying the same.

Race, age, and education. The survey also found racial, age, and educational differences in assessments of the reduction in union representation:

  • By about two-to-one, blacks are more likely to say the decline in union representation has been mostly bad for working people than that it has been mostly good (65 percent vs. 29 percent). Smaller shares of whites (49 percent) or Hispanics (52 percent) say it has been mostly bad.

  • Adults younger than 30 are the only age group in which a majority (56 percent) says the reduction in union membership has been mostly bad for working people. Among adults 30 and older, half (50 percent) express this view.

  • While 61 percent of adults with postgraduate degrees say the decline in union membership has been mostly bad for working people, fewer of those with less education (50 percent) view this trend negatively.

Other differences. The survey broke the numbers down by several other factors such as age, education, and differences among those with similar political affiliations:

  • Young adults continue to be more likely than older people to express a favorable opinion of labor unions. A 68 percent majority of those ages 18 to 29 hold a positive view of unions, compared with only about 51 percent of those 50 and older.

  • Adults younger than 30 also are somewhat less likely to view businesses favorably, with fewer than half (46 percent) holding a favorable opinion of business corporations, while 47 percent hold an unfavorable view.

  • Older Americans are more likely to be positive than negative in their views of businesses, with adults under 30 being the only age group in which a larger share has a favorable view of labor unions than of business corporations.

  • Among educational groups, postgraduates stand out for having a more favorable opinion of labor unions (65 percent) than corporations (53 percent). Among those with less education, comparable shares express favorable views of both unions and corporations.

  • Among Republicans and Republican leaners, nearly two-to-one (65 percent to 33 percent) of those with at least a four-year college degree hold unfavorable opinions of labor unions. By contrast, opinion is divided among Republicans who do not have a college degree (45 percent unfavorable, 42 percent favorable).

  • Among Democrats, there are only modest demographic differences in views of labor unions, with conservative and moderate Democrats more likely than liberal Democrats to view business corporations favorably (53 percent vs. 40 percent).

Supreme Court bars public sector “agency fees.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a significant blow to the financial viability of public-sector unions by holding that the state of Illinois cannot require nonunion public employees to pay an “agency fee” to cover union expenditures for collective bargaining activities. In a 5-4 decision issued on June 27, the High Court held in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 that the state’s extraction of such fees from nonconsenting public employees violates the First Amendment, concluding that its 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education was inconsistent with other First Amendment cases and has been undermined by more recent decisions. As a result, state laws that allow public-sector unions to collect agency fees from nonmembers are no longer enforceable.

About the author, Rhamy

Rhamy grew up watching and working with his mother and grandmother in the seniors insurance market. This familiarity with the struggles faced by people trying to navigate the incredibly complicated and heavily regulated healthcare market led him to start Poplar Financial while working on his degree at the University of Memphis. After completing his MBA and Bachelors in Finance and Economics, Rhamy guided Poplar Financial through the disruptive opportunity that is the Affordable Care Act. Since then Poplar Financial has received numerous awards from major insurance carriers, and has completed its fourth year in a row of doubling in size. Now his team focuses on the processes around human resources, and specializes in providing companies with between 20 and 1000 employees with the payroll, benefits, and HR needs.

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