According to a recent Gallup poll, it is easy to see that the majority of Americans support laws that would make it easier, not more difficult, for unions to organize. 53% support such law, while only 39% reject such law. The sustained favorable opinion about unions as a benefit and a need for working Americans is not surprising, as favoritism toward union representation will not be going away for a while.
The problem, however, is that political orientation changes the picture. Democrats are 70/30 in favor. Republicans are 60/40 in favor. Independents, a growing segment of the voting population are only 52/41 in favor. As a result, while it is clear that there is a value laden support for union representation, those who favor business or who are not in favor of more perks and support for labor are less inclined to support union representation.
In reality, union membership has dropped to record lows. In 1983, union membership was at about 20%. In 2007, membership had dropped to 12.5 percent. Government workers showed more unionizing at 36.2 percent, while private workers only showed 7.4 percent representation. Yet, despite such massive declines, somehow, unions managed to show that they had billions in worth.
In many cases, the public has accepted that some union advances in employee representation had gone into areas of corruption, harassment, greed, excessive pay, and into areas of trying to influence the actual management decisions of companies and employers. In other cases, politically active individuals were concerned that unions were meddling in and controlling the decision making by political parties, particularly Democratic Party policy, by tying their contributions to demands for a far more active role in the organizational and decision making process.
Excessive pay in relation to education level and level of work has become the Achilles heel of unions in the public eye. Overwhelmingly complicated and dictatorial union demands were also highly publicized as an excuse for company financial losses and failures. Unions were seen as the cause of jobs being outsourced to overseas and out of country locations, where labor costs were far less, but where the abusive workplace conditions, including abuse of child labor and unreasonably low pay returned to create new suffering for new workers.
In some major corporations, union power was decimated when businesses and corporations lobbied Presidents and Congress. Corporations developed cunning and complicated legal ways of getting around union agreements, through layoffs, outsourcing, job reassignment, job relocation, and other ploys. This was combined with the union’s neglect and inability to pay attention to what the workers were going through on the job to literally gut the Union’s ability to negotiate better conditions for their members as well as to retain jobs in the face of overwhelming economic collapse.
The current movement concerns the Employee Free Choice Act, where unions can use “card checks” that do not involve secret ballots in order to get the majority of workers to join the union and to make the workplace a union workplace. This method is supposed to make it easier for unions to organize. The problem with this approach is that unions have been accused of using harassment, even showing up at worker’s homes, in order to coerce or extort their membership. The tradition “secret ballot” allowed workers to reject a union while protecting their personal identity and safety. The secret ballot also kept unions from controlling all aspects of the unionizing process in order to force the results of non secret balloting to be in their favor.
The current situation is that the majority of Americans are not paying very much attention to union issues, have ancient memory of the great union movements and advancements of the past, and are struggling to get and to retain any job, no matter how bad the work situation is.
Ongoing reports of old style Union corruption and involvement in getting excessive pay for the auto and other industry workers was also a major factor in loss of public support for actual union activities, while general opinion bordered on the favorable. There is no shortage of reporting on individual union members or managers being prosecuted for crimes that are related to their jobs, which rests heavily in the public minds. The unions, themselves, are not investing some of their money in positive advertising or recruiting campaigns, which compounds the increasing tendency to ignore them.
While a Marxian concept of revolution and complete overturn of the government/business cabals as the only way to improve workers lives was disproved by the American and other union movements, the image, role, and importance of American unions needs serious attention, correction, improvement, and reconstruction in order for unions to remain a viable option to worker and public upset over working conditions and job availability, or a Marxian style of revolution might just occur.
Gallup, Inc. “Majority Receptive to Law Making Union Organizing Easier”
Washington Post, “Union Membership Drops To Record Lows”, January, 2007
Union Corruption Update