Commentary Magazine


Was It Something They Did?

Big Labor has an image problem. It seems that helping to run the American car industry into the ground (with help from less-than-stellar management, of course), trying to snag a sweetheart deal to exempt its members from the Cadillac excise tax on health-care plans, and making a run at abolishing secret-ballot elections in the workplace have left a bad taste in the mouths of American. A Pew survey tells us:

Favorable views of labor unions have plummeted since 2007, amid growing public skepticism about unions’ purpose and power. Currently, 41% say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions while about as many (42%) express an unfavorable opinion. In January 2007, a clear majority (58%) had a favorable view of unions while just 31% had an unfavorable impression. … In April 2009, 61% agreed with the statement “labor unions are necessary to protect the working person,” down from 68% in 2007 and 74% in 2003. In the same survey, six-in-ten (61%) agreed that “labor unions have too much power,” up from 52% in 1999.

The Pew report notes that this is consistent with surveys by other polling outfits. Big Labor’s approval ratings have plunged in all demographic and racial groups. Only union households (of which there are fewer every year) think their unions are doing a bang-up job.

Big Labor would have us believe that its decline is attributable to rigged federal labor rules or nefarious employers. But the reality is that most Americans don’t see unions doing much good for them — but they do see union bosses acting like every other strong-arming, special-interest group. So it may not be an issue of whether federal labor law is outmoded but whether labor unions are.