Economic Snapshot | Unions and Labor Standards

Workers want unions now more than ever

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Snapshot for February 28, 2007.

Workers want unions now more than ever

by Ross Eisenbrey

Today, more than at any time in the recent past, American workers want to join unions and have unions represent them in the workplace. In 1984, about a third of non-union workers wanted a union to represent them, while two-thirds said they would definitely or probably vote against forming a union. As shown in the figure below, by 2005, nearly the opposite was true: 53% of non-union workers wanted a union and only a little more than a third said they would vote against a union.1  

Nonunion worker likely vote in a union representation election, Hart polls, 1984-2004

According to new survey research by Richard Freeman of Harvard University that combines results from both union and non-union private sector workers, “if workers were provided the union representation they desired in 2005, then the unionization rate would be about 58%”—almost eight times higher than the actual rate of 7.4%, and considerably higher than the 44% found in polls from the mid-1990s.2

These results track a significant improvement in the general public perception of unions.  While a majority of the public has always approved of unions and a minority disapproved, the gap between approval and disapproval grew from about 20 points in 1981 to 43 points in 2005, the largest gap between approval and disapproval of unions ever recorded in the Gallup and Hart Research polls.3

Americans approve of unions and want unions to represent them. Only employer hostility and inadequate laws keep employees from having the union representation they want.

Further discussion of this topic can be found in the Briefing Paper, Do Workers Still Want Unions? More Than Ever .

1. Richard B. Freeman, Do Workers Still Want Unions? More Than Ever, Economic Policy Institute, Washington, D.C. (2007), p.6.
2. Freeman, p. 6.
3. Freeman, p.7.

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