Majority Receptive to Law Making Union Organizing Easier

by Lydia Saad

But most Americans not closely following news about union bill in Congress

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll finds just over half of Americans, 53%, favoring a new law that would make it easier for labor unions to organize workers; 39% oppose it. This is a key issue at stake with the Employee Free Choice Act now being considered in Congress.


The poll reveals sharply differing reactions to the issue within the general public according to political orientation. Most Democrats (70%) say they would favor a law that facilitates union organizing, while a majority of Republicans (60%) say they would oppose it. Independents lean in favor of such a law, 52% vs. 41%.


As originally proposed, the 2009 Employee Free Choice Act (in its House and Senate versions) strengthens the "majority signature" or "card check" basis for union organizing by automatically unionizing any workplace in which a majority of workers have signed a union authorization card. The act would eliminate employers' ability to call for secret-ballot elections (although employees can still call for one), and would make changes to enforcement of labor protections and contract-settlement procedures. Thus far, the proposal has not been a prominent item in the mainstream national news; however, it has sparked fierce union-versus-business debate in Washington and appears headed toward a close vote in the U.S. Senate.

By their own admission, most Americans are not paying very close attention to the congressional debate on this issue. According to the March 14-15 survey, only 12% of U.S. adults say they are following news about the union-organizing bill "very closely" and another 22% say they are following it "somewhat closely." Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they are following it less closely than that (26%), or not at all (39%).


Those most closely following news about the union-organizing bill are the most opposed to the general concept of a law making it easier for unions to organize: just 40% are in favor; 58% are opposed. The bill enjoys its highest support -- 58% -- among those not following the bill at all.


Bottom Line

Previous Gallup polling has shown that Americans are fundamentally sympathetic to labor unions, and these underlying attitudes are no doubt reflected in their general support for legislation characterized as making it easier for workers to unionize. For example, Gallup's annual polling on workplace issues, conducted each August, has found consistently high approval of labor unions in recent years, including a 59% approval rating last summer. The current level of support for a new law facilitating more union membership -- 53% in favor -- is only slightly less favorable to unions.

The current findings could bode well for the pro-union side of the issue as it ramps up the public-information component of its lobbying efforts, particularly at a time when corporate America has serious image problems. Americans appear to be a sympathetic audience for a basic argument behind the law if it is described simply as making it easier for unions to organize.

At the same time, Americans have barely begun to pay attention to the issue. The 12% who are following it "very closely" is exceptionally low relative to public attention to other news issues Gallup has measured over the last two decades. And, while Americans are broadly supportive of labor unions, Gallup's August 2008 Workplace survey found only 35% in favor of unions having greater influence. In this context, with the arguments against card check yet to be fully aired and debated, it could be a troubling sign for unions that no more than 53% of Americans immediately support this fundamental aspect of the card-check bill.

The Employee Free Choice Act is a complex piece of legislation with numerous components, making it difficult to assess overall support for the bill among a population that is largely unaware of it. General support for the idea of "making it easier for unions to organize" as measured in the current poll is telling, but not necessarily indicative of public reaction to the bill if and when the political debate spills over into news headlines. Future Gallup polling will explore public reaction to specific aspects of the bill's provisions, and will continue to monitor overall support for the concept of making it easier for workers to unionize.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,024 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 14-15, 2009, as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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