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American Sentiment – Going Pro-Union, Anti-Big Business

No, it’s not your imagination- American sentiment is shifting towards pro-union, anti-big business at an accelerating rate.  According to a recent study, public sentiment towards big business is at a near 50-year low at a time when nearly 50% of Americans say they would vote in favor of unionization at work.  This is true despite the fact that just under 12% of full-time workers (including both the private and public sectors) currently belonging to a union.

It is easy to point to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to try to explain away these shifting sentiments, but the impact of the pandemic on the American workforce does not tell the whole story. True, during the pandemic unions were often seen as trying to help workers garner greater protections to improve working conditions and address safety concerns that where a challenge in all workplaces.  However, the shifting sentiments first started to appear in 2012, long before the pandemic.

According to the American National Election Studies (ANES), Americans’ feelings towards labor unions had begun to warm and attitudes towards big business chill as far back as 2012.   ANES’s most recent 2020 data shows this trend not only continues but is expanding.

What may be most telling and concerning for employers is the fact that these sentiments are no longer clearly delineated based on age/race/gender and political viewpoints.  While it is true, those factors still play a major part in union membership, sentiment across the board is shifting, as two brief examples will highlight: (i) individuals born after 1975 have developed very pro-union feelings and (ii) the Republican sentiment gap between pro-union/anti-big business rose significantly between ANES’ 2012 study to its most recent 2020 study, and currently stands at an all-time high.

So, why the change in public sentiment?  There are several factors at play.  Many believe what got the ball rolling was the combination of President Obama’s eight years of pro-employee/anti-big business initiatives in conjunction with Senator Bernie Sanders vocal advocacy in support of unions and against big business.  These efforts were followed  by workers across the country supporting the highly publicized desire for an increased minimum wage in the form of the Fight for $15 Movement.  This was followed by President Biden’s publicly announced desire to become the most pro-union President in history. 

What could help cement these sentiments for the foreseeable future is the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.  If passed, it would shift the balance of bargaining power in the workplace to unions while enhancing and facilitating workers’ rights to organize.  Whether the PRO Act or some variation of it becomes law, one thing is clear – America is moving to the left.  As a recent Gallop poll highlights, an estimated 65% of all Americans approve of labor unions; including 83% of Democrats, 64% of independents and 45% of Republicans.  This growing positive sentiment towards unions and away from big business is not going away anytime soon.

Employers need to heed caution as Americans’ increased interest for organized labor and their decreased affinity towards big business presents new and unique problems most business owners have not faced in generations.  Now more than ever employers need to keep employees happy to keep their workplace free from unions.  A perfect storm for employers is brewing- shifting national sentiments, heightened scrutiny and enforcement  at the NLRB (click here), a pro-union President and the potential passage of the PRO Act.

Brody and Associates regularly advises management on all issues involving unions, staying union-free, complying with the newest decision issued by the NLRB, and training management on how to deal with all these challenges.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.