The Gallup organization conducted a poll last summer asking Americans about their impressions of labor unions. Based on the current membership numbers, I would have expected that fewer than fifty percent of Americans feel positively about unions. I would have been wrong.
Despite the low numbers of actual labor union members in America, a majority of Americans have a positive view of unions according to Gallup. The polling showed that 65 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, which was the highest the number had been since 2003.
While there is majority support for unions in general, the approval numbers are partisan with 83% of Democrats approving while just 45% of Republicans approve. Still the Republican numbers are higher than I would have expected. According to the poll, ten percent of Americans are in a union, while 16 percent of households have at least one union member.
These approval numbers are consistent with recent events in which notoriously anti-union workplaces have seen a shift as workers begin to embrace unionization. In Buffalo, New York, workers at Starbucks coffee shops recently chose to unionize, becoming the first shops run by the chain to unionize among 9000 nationwide.
Over the next month, workers at an Amazon plant in Alabama will decide whether they will unionize a workplace at a company that to date has managed to avoid any unionized shops.
Without broad support from workers and community members, unionization of a workplace is a nearly impossible task. But the Gallup polling shows that as support for unions grows in America, more workplaces will see organizing attempts as workers try to regain some control over their work lives.
Of course, this trend should not be surprising given the upheaval that employers and employees have seen within workplaces since the pandemic came to our shores more than two years ago.
COVID-19 created new rules and new bureaucracies within workplaces. It created uncertainty and unpredictability in a number of areas. Not only did workers have to wonder whether or not the pandemic would lead employers to shut their doors, but for those businesses that managed to hang on and stay open, new rules were coming out on a weekly basis impacting how, when and where work would get done.
Workers have had a sense that they are completely lacking in control over their own lives because their workplaces have become places of instability and uncertainty. With few legal means of creating certainty, many folks have started thinking about options that even two or three years ago would have been unthinkable.
Increased unionization seems to be a response to increased governmental mandates regarding how workplaces should be run. While some employers have fumbled miserably in dealing with employees throughout the pandemic, greater uncertainty has been caused by governmental intervention that has ping-ponged between implementation of various safety mandates, and elimination of those same mandates weeks later.
The conflicting messages have led to dizziness among workers and a feeling that nobody is in charge and nobody really knows what they are doing. Workers have turned to unions to try to provide a measure of control and stability.
Of course unions cannot work miracles. But given an opportunity to speak on behalf of workers, they can provide some semblance of stability and predictable outcomes for members. That is likely why they are being viewed more positively two years into this pandemic.
Eric Brown is an attorney practicing labor and employment law in Connecticut. He can be reached at 888-579-4222 or online at www.thelaborlawyer.com.