The Obama Administration has repeatedly expressed support for labor unions. Department of Labor Hilda Solis has credited unions for her family’s success, stating “[w]ithout the help, protection that we received, and retirement benefits, I know myself and my siblings would not be where we are today.” However, it does not appear that President Obama or Secretary Solis is swaying the public. According to a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey, union popularity among the American public has decreased since 2007. The survey, conducted by telephoning 1,383 adults between February 3 and 9, 2010, revealed that 42% of Americans have an unfavorable view of unions, and only 41% of the public favors them. These numbers represent a steep decline in public support of the labor movement. By comparison, in January 2007, just three years earlier, 58% of the public had a favorable view of unions, while just 31% of the public disfavored them.
The 2010 survey results are not entirely surprising. An April 2009 survey foreshadowed the 2010 results, uncovering public concern about the power of unions and increasing doubt about their necessity to protect workers. As of April 2009, 61% of the public agreed with the statement, “labor unions are necessary to protect the working person,” a 7% decline in support from 2007 and 13% decline from 2003. Likewise, 61% of the public in April 2009 also agreed that “labor unions have too much power,” a jump from 52% support for the statement in 1999. The public’s opinion of unions is contrary to that opinion expressed by the Obama Administration.
Additionally, public opinion of unions, their necessity and the power they wield may impact both Congressional support for the Employee Free Choice Act (“EFCA”) and the bill’s overarching effectiveness in the workplace if passed. EFCA was designed to make it easier for unions to organize and represent employees. If passed, the bill would allow a union to bypass the traditional secret ballot election and become the employees’ bargaining representative after a majority of employees sign a card indicating their desire for union representation. Perhaps a reflection of the American sentiment captured by the 2010 survey, discussion of EFCA has largely subsided since Summer 2009. If, however, Congressional interest in EFCA re-emerges, declining public support for unions suggests that obtaining a majority card check vote may prove to be a greater challenge than originally anticipated by industry experts. As a result, unions would not be able to organize on the basis of card checks alone and would have to resort to secret ballot elections, which they lose about as often as they win.