Most Americans agree that unions get better wages and working conditions for workers

Linley SandersData Journalist
September 02, 2022, 3:28 PM GMT+0

Labor Day is a federal holiday that was created to celebrate American workers and the labor movement. A new YouGov poll conducted ahead of the holiday finds that most Americans (54%) have a favorable view of labor unions. That's up slightly from a 2019 Economist/YouGov poll (47%).

Amid a strong job market in the United States, 49% of Americans are predicting that the level of influence wielded by labor unions will go up (30%) or remain consistent (19%) in the future. Just 18% believe it is going to decline. Americans' collective predictions for unions tend to align with what they want to see happen with unions: One-third (33%) want union influence to increase and 18% want it to remain the same. About one in five (22%) would like to see union power decrease. Among people who want unions' influence to increase, 56% predict it will; just 21% who want unions' influence to decrease predict it will increase.

Do unions benefit American workers?

Many Americans agree that unions provide benefits to workers. Looking at net scores of various statements about unions – that is, how much more likely people are to agree than disagree with the statements – many more Americans agree than disagree with statements that say unions allow workers to have collective power in negotiations (+56 percentage points) and that unions provide a voice for labor and protect workers from management (+52). There is a similar lean toward agreement (+49) with the statement that unions allow for better wages and working conditions.

Net agreement with negative sentiments about unions emerge for statements that unions enable bad workers to keep jobs that they don't deserve (+24) and that union dues are generally too expensive (+22). Each statement shown to respondents received more agreement than disagreement, with less net agreement for statements that said union leaders care more about dues than workers (+4) and that unions demand too much from management (+4).

These findings may be affected by a common survey-research phenomenon: acquiescence bias, that is, a tendency of respondents to select a positive response option (such as "agree") over a negative one (such as "disagree"). This can affect results when respondents’ agreeableness surpasses their willingness to report their true preferences, and can be especially pronounced for agree-disagree questions. However, agreement provided a consistent metric to compare the relative support for statements that are often touted during union negotiations by pro-union and anti-union representatives.

Are worker strikes effective?

There have been several high-profile worker strikes in recent years, including ongoing unionizing pushes at Starbucks and Amazon, as well as a prolonged strike by coal miners in Alabama. At various points during union organizing, employees at those companies have gone on strike in order to try to force the management companies to negotiate with them.

By 47% to 29%, Americans say that going on strike is an effective strategy for workers to get what they want from management. Democrats (66%) and people in union households (54%) are especially likely to say going on strike is an effective strategy. Republicans are almost evenly split: 39% say a strike is an effective strategy and 40% say it is not.

While Americans are more likely to favor than oppose unions — and to side with workers over management when given specific examples — there are limits to the extent of that support. Americans are split on whether they approve of people who figuratively "cross the picket line" during a union-led strike in order to work for, or give business to, companies whose employees are engaged in a strike: 35% approve and 32% disapprove.

— Taylor Orth, Oana Dumitru, and Carl Bialik contributed to this article

This poll was conducted on August 24 - 28, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.

Image: Adobe Stock (by Blue Planet Studio)

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