Approval for Unions Near 50-Year High, Reflecting Broader Momentum

Union member holding union sign

Photo Credit: Dave Kreisman

Labor unions are continuing to gain momentum, with the latest proof coming from a new Gallup poll, which reveals that 64% of Americans approve of unions, a near 50-year high.

More and more people, regardless of political party, view unions as essential to levelling the playing field, providing economic security and unrigging a system that’s for too long favored the wealthy and powerful.

Recent union momentum isn’t just a passing fad. It’s the result of workers facing the facts about how much more powerful a union can make them, and of a broader desire for the voice on the job that only comes with being a union member.

“Despite relentless anti-union attacks from wealthy corporations, more and more people recognize that unions are a force for progress and national strength, improving the lives of all working families and their communities,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a statement. “The labor movement has a powerful wind at its back. And we will carry this momentum into new organizing campaigns and our work in the 2020 elections.”

Unions Help Fix a Rigged System

As Steven Greenhouse, a former New York Times labor and workplace reporter, points out in an Aug. 3 column, a key reason for President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was that “many Americans seemed to view him as a protest candidate,” believing his rhetoric about shaking up “the system” and draining “the swamp.”

Ironically for them, Trump has turned out to be anything but a reformer, so workers continue to look for a solution to an economic system they know is rigged against them.

Unions, Greenhouse suggests, are the solution.

“America’s workers won’t stop thinking the system is rigged until they feel they have an effective voice in the workplace and in policymaking so that they can share in more of the economy’s prosperity to help improve their — and their loved ones’ — lives,” he writes.

Empowering Members, Their Communities

German Lopez, a writer for Vox Media, is a worker who faced the facts. Originally skeptical of labor unions in general, he ended up being part of the collective bargaining team that negotiated a first contract with their employer. In the process, his view of unions and their function in society completely changed. He solidified his 180-degree change of heart with a well-researched piece published on on Aug. 19.

“I hope more Americans go through the transformation that I did,” he writes. “We’d all be better for it.”

Among the benefits of unions that would make our country more prosperous, he writes:

  • They help nonunionized workers as well, boosting their wages and benefits;
  • They help reduce income and wealth inequality, which is at its worst nationwide in a century;
  • And they help balance American politics, mobilizing voters and educating them on the issues.

Lopez also points out that if all nonunion workers who wish to join a union today had the opportunity to do so, union membership nationwide would quadruple. It follows that lawmakers must make it easier, not harder, for workers in the public and private sectors to organize.

The Path Forward

At AFSCME’s 2020 Public Service Forum on Aug. 3, all 19 presidential candidates who participated embraced a federal law expanding and protecting collective bargaining rights for all public service workers.

So, while union popularity is on the rise, we must continue to be vigilant about supporting politicians who will protect our voices on the job and make it easier for all workers to join a union.