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The Power of Organized Labor: A Nuanced Picture


As the Hollywood writers’ strike continues into its third month, the film industry is feeling the pressure. Countless movies and TV shows have been halted, but in the process, organized labor has reminded millions of Americans that its power endures.

Despite the decline in private-sector union membership, most Americans still support labor unions as a whole. Collective bargaining is viewed as a powerful and necessary tool for employees to use as leverage, according to a recent survey from The Harris Poll. 

The survey found that 65% of U.S. adults agree that collective bargaining is the only way for workers to guarantee fair treatment from their employers. Even groups of workers who do not belong to a labor union should still be able to employ collective bargaining tactics to their advantage, according to 74% of respondents.

While organized labor’s critics may celebrate its decline in private-sector membership, American public opinion paints a more nuanced picture. The ongoing Hollywood writers’ strike is just one example of the enduring power of labor unions.

America’s View on Organized Labor: A Complicated Relationship

Recognizing the Necessity of Collective Bargaining, But Not for All

Collective bargaining is recognized as a necessary component of labor relations by most Americans. However, when it comes to labor unions, opinions become more complicated. Six out of ten U.S. adults (57%) agree that organized labor is only necessary for workers in certain industries. Emphasis on certain.

Public Opinion Depends on Economic Climate

Public opinion on organized labor is not static and varies depending on the state of the U.S. economy. During growth periods, labor unions are perceived more favorably. Conversely, during economic recessions, their reputation can be jeopardized. Nearly 60% of U.S. adults agree that labor unions are less powerful during times of economic hardship—a particularly important caveat in 2023.

Key Takeaways for Employers, Employees, and Labor Unions

America’s relationship with organized labor may be complex, but there are key takeaways for employers, employees, and labor unions that are instructive. For labor unions specifically, the task is simple (albeit difficult to execute): communicate your value-add clearly to employees.

While organized labor is still perceived favorably among vast swaths of the American electorate, decreasing membership suggests that union officials need to strategize their messaging to the workers they are targeting. Workers need to understand the benefits of joining and remaining in a labor union and believe that those benefits outweigh potential costs like union dues or retribution from an employer.

The Nuances of Organized Labor

It’s no secret that organized labor has been a controversial topic in the United States for decades, with both fervent supporters and staunch opponents. However, it’s important for both sides to recognize that the situation is not always black and white.

Employers who are against union organizing must realize that their employees may not share the same sentiment. Likewise, labor unions must effectively communicate the reasons behind their cause. Both sides of the argument need to be heard and understood.

For employees, making the decision to join or remain in a labor union requires a cost-benefit analysis. While there are certainly advantages to organizing, there can also be drawbacks. It’s essential for workers to do their research and evaluate the facts.

It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to labor unions. What may work for one industry or region may not apply to another. Therefore, public opinion on organized labor is highly dependent on the specific situation at hand.

Ultimately, it’s imperative for both supporters and opponents of organized labor to consider the nuances and complexities of the issue. Only through open dialogue and understanding can we move towards a more productive and equitable workforce.

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