Labor poll finds unions fall short improving engagement, work life

Labor poll finds unions fall short improving engagement, work life

A poll found most nonunion respondents were not interested in joining organized labor, reporting higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement than their union counterparts. One in 4 union members reported being “actively disengaged” at work.

A new Gallup poll found public support for labor unions reached its highest levels in decades in 2022 amid a series of high-profile unionization efforts at some of Americas’ largest corporations.

But while the annual survey found most Americans support labor groups, interest in joining a union has stagnated outside heavily unionized industries with 58% of nonunion workers expressing no interest.

Researchers said nonunion workers reported higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement than their unionized counterparts, citing those as reasons for stalling membership. The survey found nearly 1 in 4 union members reported being “actively disengaged” at work.

“There is clearly increasing general support for unions,” Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy, workplace management at Gallup told CNBC. “But that is more due to the fact that Americans want to put some power back in the hands of employees and improve worker experience and work environment, rather than join the ranks of unions themselves.”

Wigert said data on lower engagement among union workers flies in the face of union efforts, but the bigger issue stems from workers reporting they did not feel like their union was making their work lives better overall.

Members joined primarily for more “favorable pay and benefits, and good representation,” Wigert said. “But that is not necessarily translating into a better experience at work, and that’s why we don’t see elevated desire to unionize among nonunion workers, or extreme commitment to a union among members.”

Researchers theorized these lower levels of engagement could be the result of dissatisfaction harbored by workers before joining the union or that joining a union foments tension between workers and employers. Ultimately, Wigert said the new data demonstrates unions are not “the complete solve.”

“If the goal is an engaged, productive workplace and a better employee experience, it’s really on the unions, management and employees to come together. The downstream effects are good for employees and employers.”

As unionization efforts at private companies become more pervasive, a look at Illinois’ government unions provides a case study for how union leaders often prioritize politics and leadership salaries over improving members’ lots.

According to their own report, not one of Illinois’ largest government unions spent more than 35% of income on representing workers in 2021. For comparison, charities are expected to spend at least 65% of their funding on program activities.

Instead, government unions prioritize politicsleadership salaries and other union boss priorities over actually representing workers.

This failure to prioritize union members could explain why 9% of state and local government workers in Illinois have opted out of their union since 2017. That includes nearly 10% of public school employees.

A union-backed amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot aims to reverse this trend by giving Illinois’ government union bosses unprecedented powers to negotiate contracts with more weight than state law. The measure would also prevent lawmakers from slowing property tax growth, costing each Illinois family at least $2,149 during the next four years.

Taxpayers should not be forced to pay higher property taxes for the failures of union bosses to rightfully represent the interests of their members. These union leaders have shown with their spending that members are not the priority.

On Nov. 8, Illinoisans have a chance to decide whether these powerful union bosses should be trusted with the fate of their future property tax hikes.

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