PRINCETON, NJ — A slim majority of Americans, 53%, approve of labor unions, although approval remains on the low end of Gallup’s nearly 80-year trend on this question. Approval has been as high as 75% in the 1950s. Currently, 38% disapprove of unions.
At the same time Americans express greater approval than disapproval of unions, they widely support right-to-work laws. Those laws allow workers to hold jobs in unionized workplaces without joining a union. Currently, 10% of Americans identify as union members according to Gallup’s Aug. 7-10 poll.
In an update of a question asked in 1957, 71% of Americans said they would “vote for” a right-to-work law if they had the opportunity to do so, while 22% said they would vote against such a law. That is a slightly higher level of support than Gallup measured nearly 60 years ago.
The popularity of right-to-work laws may be a result of Americans’ greater agreement with a major argument put forth by right-to-work proponents than by one of the main arguments put forth by opponents of such laws. The poll finds 82% of Americans agreeing that “no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will,” a position advanced by right-to-work proponents. Pro-union forces partly oppose right-to-work laws because of the “free-rider” problem, with non-union workers benefitting as much as union workers when unions negotiate pay and benefit increases with employers. But by 64% to 32%, Americans disagree that workers should “have to join and pay dues to give the union financial support” because “all workers share the gains won by the labor union.”