Public Approval of Unions Hits 57-Year High, Polling Finds

Approval of unions among the American public has hit its highest point since 1965 amid a series of victories won by the labor movement over the past years, new polling finds.

According to a Gallup poll released on Tuesday, 71 percent of Americans approve of unions. This is the highest approval recorded in 57 years, and is close to the all-time high of 75 percent recorded by Gallup in the mid-1950s.

Though Gallup notes that 71 percent is statistically similar to the 68 percent that the pollster recorded last year, approval of unions has been on an upward trend for over a decade. After reaching a low point in 2009, support for unions has risen 23 percent.

Such support comes despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans aren’t in a labor union themselves. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), only 10.3 percent of workers belonged to a union in 2021; the Gallup survey finds that only 6 percent of respondents are in a union, while 7 percent said they live in a household with a union member.

High support for unions could be coming from the work of labor organizers, who have been notching a remarkable number of wins in the past year especially. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) reported this summer that more union petitions were filed in the first nine months of Fiscal Year 2022 than in the entirety of Fiscal Year 2021, with the amount of petitions rising by 58 percent.

Some of these filings have come from high profile union fights like that of Starbucks workers, who have won over 220 union elections since launching their union campaign in August of last year. Workers have also been waging union campaigns at other household name companies like Amazon, Trader Joe’s and REI; even staffers in Congress hopped onto the union wave this year.

There is an appetite among non-union workers to join a union, the polling finds. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they were interested in becoming a union member, with 11 percent saying that they are “extremely interested” in doing so.

Gallup says that part of the reason for the upswing in support for unions is that the “low unemployment rate that developed during the pandemic altered the balance of power between employers and employees,” perhaps empowering employees to form unions after many workers reported feeling disposable at work during the pandemic.

Indeed, there’s also been an increase in the number of people quitting their jobs, suggesting that people are feeling emboldened to take more drastic measures to seek better working conditions or benefits. According to statistics released by BLS on Tuesday, 2.7 million people quit their jobs in July, adding to the “Great Resignation” that the labor market has seen in recent months.

Still, workers seeking to join a union may find it difficult under current conditions. Though public support for unions is high, corporations are waging fierce anti-union campaigns to prevent their workers from unionizing.

Though President Joe Biden’s NLRB has been more union-friendly than that of past administrations, federal labor laws carry relatively small punishments for illegal union busting. Labor activists have called for the passage of bills like the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to strengthen labor laws and level the playing field between unionizing workers and employers.