September 2019 Advocate: Public support for unions on the rise


Public support for unions on the rise

Public support for unions has reached 64 percent in a recent Gallup poll. Gallup has been asking the public about support for unions since 1936. Since 1967, the polling agency observes, the union approval rating “has only occasionally surpassed 60 percent. The current 64 percent reading is one of the highest union approval ratings Gallup has recorded over the past fifty years.”

Wage stagnation and benefits erosion is a significant factor leading to greater support for unions. Wages are increasingly insufficient to cover skyrocketing living costs, and employers continue to slash benefits to increase profits, making life harder for working people. This is an obvious source of frustration with the status quo, a basic factor that causes working people to turn to collective action in the form of unions.

People don’t automatically warm to unions, however, just because their employers are treating them poorly. They have to see a credible alternative, a positive example of what unions can do. The teachers’ strike wave, which started in 2018, did just that. The strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, California, Washington, and several other states put unions in the news, making them visible and relevant to large segments of the population for the first time in decades. And importantly, by “bargaining for the common good” — or connecting their demands to the well-being of communities as a whole — the strikes were successful at impressing on people that what’s good for unions and workers is also good for students, parents, and the entire public.