Just in time for Labor Day, Gallup has released an opinion poll on unions and right-to-work laws. The survey found 53 percent of Americans approve of unions -- a number that's consistent with post-recession trends. The 2009 low of 48 percent was the only time since 1936, when Gallup began conducting the survey, that approval numbers have dropped below 50 percent.
Unions are heavily favored by Democrats (77 percent approval rating) while only 32 percent of Republicans have a favorable opinion of unions. When it comes to right-to-work laws, the difference between parties isn't as clear. Gallup asked a random sample of 1,032 adults whether they would vote for a right-to-work law. "Some states have passed right-to-work or open shop laws that say each worker has the right to hold his job in a company, whether he joins a labor union or not," Gallup stated, following with the question, "If you were asked to vote on such a law, would you vote for it or against it?"
Overall, 71 percent of respondents said they would vote for the law. Among Democrats, that number sank to 65 percent and 74 percent of Republicans stated they would vote for right-to-work laws. Independents, while relatively middle ground when it came to supporting unions overall, were extremely pro-right-to-work laws. Democrats' support of both unions and right-to-work laws seems contradictory. "It is possible they may be sympathetic to the concept of unions and what they stand for in theory, but [they] may disagree with some of the specific policies unions favor that could interfere with the opportunities for non-union members to secure employment," Gallup explains.
Among the right-to-work states, Michigan ranks highest for proportion of labor force in a union, at 16.3 percent. Nevada is a close second with 14.6 percent. The state with union security laws in place with the lowest percentage of workers in a union is New Mexico with only 6.2 percent. New laws may soon be adopted in New Mexico, where new polling data from Rio Grande Foundation shows 85 percent of New Mexicans support right-to-work laws.
New York state has the highest rate of union members (as a percent of the employed labor force) with 24.4 percent. North Carolina, a right-to-work state, has the lowest rate with only 3 percent. Hover over a state in the map below to see union membership rates:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14.53 million Americans, or roughly 11.3 percent of the employed workforce, were members of a union in 2013. When expanded to include both union members and "workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union or an employee association contract," that number increases to 16.1 million people. Take a look at the charts below to see how union membership breaks down by age and race: