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Americans Support Collective Bargaining - So Why Don't More Support Unions?


A recent poll reveals 77% of American adults support employees’ right to bargain collectively for workplace conditions such as pay, health care and time off.

This support is encouraging... but also a little confusing. When asked the same question about collective bargaining as a union, that support begins to dip. But why do we see more support for collective bargaining than we do for unions? The answer isn’t always simple.

A Few Statistics About Unions

According to Pew Research Group, the following interesting factors are at play when it comes to attitudes about unions.

  • Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to view labor unions positively (58 percent vs. 27 percent)
  • Young people are more likely to view labor unions favorably (3/4 of those ages 18 to 29 and only 1/2 of those 50 and older)

And, while there are no significant demographic differences among Democrats in views of labor unions, Republicans are divided along several lines, including:


  • Republicans and Republican-leaning independents aged 50 and older are twice as likely to have an unfavorable view of labor unions (64 percent unfavorable, 32 percent favorable)
  • By contrast, a majority of younger Republicans (55 percent) express a favorable opinion toward unions


  • 72% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents with a college degree say they have a negative view of labor unions
  • Non-college-educated Republicans hold mixed views - 49 percent say they view labor favorably and 47 percent unfavorably


  • A majority of moderate and liberal Republicans (55 percent) say they have a positive view of union
  • Only about four-in-ten conservative Republicans (38 percent) say the same

What can we take from these statistics?

Union membership on the whole in the US has seen declining numbers over the last few decades. In 2019, 10.3 percent (14.6 million workers) were members of unions. Back in 1983, union membership was at 20.1 percent (17.7 million workers).

There are many factors to consider. But we can’t overlook the possibility that labor unions have a perception problem. That needs to be addressed if we want unions to continue to play a meaningful role in labor relations in the U.S.

Below, we discuss some common misconceptions and how we are working to address them:

Misconception 1: Labor Unions Create an "Us vs. Them" Mindset

This perception relates to labor unions’ history of opposing management. But it doesn’t jibe with what's happening today. Look at the relationship between IBEW and NECA, the National Electrical Contractors Association. Across the country, IBEW and NECA have partnered to develop mutually beneficial collective bargaining agreements, define training standards, and settle disputes.

Misconception 2: Labor Unions Were Once Necessary but Not Anymore

There is also a perception out there that, though useful once, workers no longer need labor unions to ensure fair working conditions and wages.

That simply isn’t true. Today, unions continue to negotiate a better standard of living and a safer workplace. These efforts benefit non-union workers as well.

“Unions advocate for their members, but they also have indirect benefits for nonunion workers. Unions influence public policies and programs that affect work hours, job security, health care and other social programs for all worker households.” (source: MarketWatch)

Misconception 3: Union Members Are Overpaid and Less Productive

This is a common misconception and it’s one that we’d like to say goodbye to forever. The IBEW is known for extremely high quality work. A comprehensive 3-year study from Independent Project Analysis (IPA) found IBEW Local 48 workers were 17 percent more productive. This was after surveying hundreds of union and non-union job sites.


High quality work and higher productivity, what else could you hope for?

Misconception 4: Labor Unions Are Out of Touch and Unwilling to Embrace Change

This one stings a bit, because there may be a kernel of truth to it. Historically, labor unions have been slower to adopt new technologies and new ways of thinking. We’re working on that! Today, IBEW and other labor unions are working hard to engage with younger members and embrace technological advances. We are doing so because we understand these are vital to our future.

In the Pacific Northwest, there are positive signs that our hard work is making an impact. In both Oregon and Washington, union membership is growing. In 2019, the number of Oregon workers represented by a union grew from 256,000 to 277,000. In Washingtonunion member­ship increased to 19.8 percent of the workforce in 2018, up from 18.8 percent in 2017.

We continue to do the work to educate people about union membership and the many benefits of collective bargaining.

Learn more about becoming an IBEW union electrician.

Learn more about the benefits of collective bargaining.

IBEW Local 48 News
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