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Americans Want Unions – But Will Their Leaders Listen?

This week, the Pew Research Center published survey results showing that most Americans approve of labor unions and view them more favorably than in the recent past.
By Pablo Ros ·
Americans Want Unions – But Will Their Leaders Listen?

Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published its annual report on labor unions, showing that union membership in our country continues to decline (an exception is AFSCME membership, which is growing). This week, the Pew Research Center published survey results showing that most Americans approve of labor unions and view them more favorably than in the recent past.

These two trends – the decline in union membership and the rising likability of labor unions – are at odds with each other. They beg the question: If Americans like labor unions, why don’t more of them join one?

The answer isn’t simple, but AFSCME members know from personal experience just how vicious are the attacks against public service workers and their unions. These attacks come from wealthy individuals and corporations, as well as the right-wing politicians who pander to them. They are relentless efforts to undermine the rights of workers and further empower the already wealthy. And, in state after state, they’re getting worse.

Now come this week’s survey findings that 60 percent of Americans have a favorable view of labor unions, the highest levels in a decade. They’re higher than when we last wrote about this trend in August 2015.

Labor unions are so popular these days that even a majority of younger Republicans (55 percent) expressed a favorable opinion. And among 18- to 29-year-olds in general, 75 percent approve of unions.

It’s not surprising that Americans want unions. Many families are struggling to make ends meet, the average worker hasn’t had a substantial raise in decades, and we’re still the only developed nation in the world that fails to guarantee paid leave of any kind.

Americans see value in unions because they know that forming a union with their co-workers is the best way to make their voices heard. That’s why AFSCME members have had nearly 600,000 individual conversations with their co-workers in just the past few years, and why our union continues to grow in strength.

If union membership is in decline despite workers’ growing appreciation of labor unions and their desire to belong to one, then something needs fixing. The wealthy special interests who oppose workers’ rights and their unions need to be pushed out of the way.

Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to act in the best interests of American workers. But his actions so far, including his nomination of Andrew Puzder for Labor Secretary, are anything but inspiring.

Let’s hope our leaders finally listen: American workers want more labor unions, not less.

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