What Your Employees Don’t Know About Unions

Gallup polls over the past six decades reveal how Americans view organized labor. The most recent survey in August 2017 shows the latest developments in the perception of unions, along with the overall level of knowledge possessed by American respondents. A disparity between perception and knowledge of unions reveal the need for immediate worker education.

Most Households Don’t Have Union Members

Considering the prevalence of unions in the news, many would be surprised that organized labor impacts a small selection of American households.

Between August 2005 and August 2017, the number of respondents in a union fell from 10 percent to 7 percent. Non-union respondents who had another household member in a union dropped from 8 to 6 percent. Overall, the percentage of households without a union member rose to 83 percent, nearing the August 2002 high of 85 percent.

Put simply, unions affect households and families far less than expected, with the majority of Americans unaffected. Instead of a ubiquitous presence across the United States, union members represent a minority of workers.

Opinion Of Unions Fall

Over the past six decades, the opinion of unions plummeted, reflecting a sea change in labor since the prosperity of the post-WWII era.

In January 1957, surveys about unions revealed that 75 percent responded positively to this type of organized labor, with 14 percent disapproving of union activities. Last August’s poll showed 61 percent approved while 33 percent disapproved – more than double the 1957 figures.

Most fascinating was the number of people who expressed no opinion on the question. Current numbers show that 5 percent responded with no opinion, while 11 percent had the same response in 1957. People disapprove of unions at a higher rate while feeling less ambivalent than any time in U.S. labor history.

Respondents Believe Unions Should Have More Influence

Despite sentiments that show a dip in approval, the same respondents revealed they believe that unions should have more influence. Compared to August 2009, when 25 percent stated their support for more influential unions, the most recent Gallup poll showed that 39 percent want organized labor to have more influence.

This represents the largest positive response over the past 18 years, which is somewhat counterintuitive given the falling opinion of unions.

Slim Majority Aware Of Right-To-Work Laws

A lack of education appears to be the culprit when considering the disparity between the opinion of unions and the belief that organized labor should have more influence.

Compared to 1957, when 66 percent of respondents were aware of “open shop” laws, the August 2014 survey shows that 55 percent of people knew of right-to-work state laws. An 11 percent dip implies a statistically significant dive in terms of knowledge and awareness of right-to-work laws.

Considering the ease of access to digital knowledge sources, far more people should be familiar with right-to-work legislation than the statistics report.

Significant Majority Of Respondents Believe In Right-To-Work Laws

According to the August 2014 survey, 71 percent of people would vote for laws which state that workers have the right to maintain employment with a company regardless of union membership. This reveals a 9 percent increase since the 1957 survey asked the same question.

Moreover, 82 percent of respondents in the 2014 survey believe that workers in the United States shouldn’t be forced to join private organizations, such as unions, explicitly against their will. Again, this is a 9 percent increase compared to the 1957 poll.

Workers Need To Be Educated About Unions

When comparing the recent survey results with statistics over the past six decades, the clear conclusion revolves around the need to educate American workers about how unions operate. The numbers show that people have less knowledge of organized labor compared to the 1950s, while the opinions of unions happen to be more passionate than ever.

Resources such as Union Proof and Little Card Big Trouble provide valuable knowledge for workers in the United States, preventing misconceptions from dominating the narrative for organized labor.

About the author

Walter Orechwa

Walter is Projections’ CEO and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.