Americans’ support for unions at highest level in decades

Business

Supporters of Amazon workers protest in front of Fidelity Investments, one of the company’s largest shareholders on May 24, 2021 in Santa Monica, California. – The nationwide protests are asking shareholders to demand that Amazon change its practices to be more accountable to workers, communities and stakeholders, while also calling on Amazon to cut ties with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and end its anti-competitive monopoly practices. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — As millions of Americans watch their real wages decline in the face of rising inflation, support for labor unions has surged to its highest level in nearly 60 years, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The survey, from August, found 71% of Americans approve of labor unions — nearly 20 points more than a decade ago and the highest percentage in a Gallup poll since 1965.

The broad support comes despite the fact just 6% of survey respondents were part of a labor union.

“The low unemployment rate that developed during the pandemic altered the balance of power between employers and employees, creating an environment fostering union membership that has resulted in the formation of unions at several high-profile companies,” the Gallup report reads. “While already on an upswing, public approval of unions has only increased further during the pandemic and is now at a level not seen in nearly six decades.”

As of 2021, about 10% of American workers belonged to a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s about half the number of union workers in 1983.

But there are signs the U.S. labor movement is starting to regain some momentum.

The National Labor Relations Board reported a 57% increase in the number of union representation petitions filed through the first half of this fiscal year.

It’s a sign the tight labor market, marked by low unemployment and millions of open jobs, has given workers additional leverage to collectively bargain.

Just last month, unions representing rail workers negotiated 24% raises along with $5,000 in bonuses and improved work schedules.

In California, more than half a million fast food workers could see their wages increase to $22 an hour now that Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed the FAST Recovery Act. The first-of-its-kind bill creates a statewide “Fast Food Council” that will set minimum industry standards and allow workers to negotiate more effectively as a sector.

Other large corporations, like Amazon and Starbucks, have also seen efforts to unionize move forward.

In April, Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York, voted to unionize in what was the first successful U.S. organizing effort in the retail giant’s history.

As of August, employees at more than 220 Starbucks stores have also voted to unionize.

It remains to be seen whether the union wave will continue into 2023. Many economists expect a recession in the coming months which could shift the balance of power back to employers.

Among workers who are not in a union, the majority (58%) say they aren’t at all interested in joining one, Gallup found.

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