Are unions REALLY that popular?

by | Sep 22, 2022 | Labor Relations Insight, News, Pro Act, Unions

Just before Labor Day, Gallup reported its latest opinion numbers on unions. The headline declared unions are as popular as they’ve been since 1965. Given the massive burst of pro-union media attention over the last year that wasn’t really a surprise. When asked the general question, “Do you approve or disapprove of labor unions,” 71% of those polled said they approve.

This is the highest support level since 1965, also at 71%. The last time union approval was higher than this was in the 1950s. The highest union approval ever recorded since Gallup started asking about unions in the 1936 was 75% in 1953 and again in 1957.

Last week at a Congressional hearing supporting the PRO Act these numbers were used to make the claim that, even though unions are as popular as ever, they still struggle to organize new members because of employer resistance. On its face the argument makes sense – if over 70% of Americans think unions are so great, why are so few people joining unions? If you dig just a little deeper into the Gallup numbers, the answers are all right there.

The Gallup research shows that unions are only popular in the most generic sense. The idea of a union, like the idea of an all you can eat buffet, sounds good in the abstract. But when it comes to what people want for themselves, the individuals polled by Gallup feel a lot different about unions.

The most glaring finding was that 65% of non-union respondents were not interested in joining a union (a whopping 58% of them were “not interested at all” in joining a union). This statistic explains more than any other why unions struggle so much to organize new workers. 

Not only are most non-represented workers not interested in unions, but another 15% of them are neutral. Only 11% of non-represented workers are “extremely interested” in joining a union. While the average non-union worker may think the idea of a union is fine for others, when it comes to their own workplace, they see no need.

Does the poll suggest why non-union workers might be less interested in unions? Check out this critical finding. Non-union workers are more engaged at work than those represented by unions. Only 27% of union workers surveyed reported feeling engaged at work, another 24% of union members were actively disengaged at work. As Gallup says, “Actively disengaged employees are not just unhappy at work — they tend to be resentful that their workplace needs aren’t being met and often act out their unhappiness.”

To be fair, everything isn’t rosy for non-union workers, and the labor market remains a mess after the pandemic. But unions clearly kill the vibe at work.  Represented workers were about 20% less engaged and 30% more actively disengaged than non-union peers.

This is the reality that Big Labor and their supporters both inside and outside the Administration don’t seem to understand. Even with the “most pro-union President” and a highly favorable organizing environment, unions aren’t highly valued by the average worker today. Sure, the idea of a union might be fine for some, but as an actual solution to day-to-day workplace problems? It’s like that second trip to the soft-serve ice cream station. It sounds good in theory, but in reality, not so much.

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