All-time high support for labor unions

Support for labor unions highest in 55 years

The American labor movement is having a watershed moment. According to a recent Gallup poll, 68 percent of Americans now say they approve of unions, the highest number since 1965 and only ten points shy of the all-time high. Exhausted by years of working longer and harder while watching the wealth gap between workers and corporate leaders grow exponentially, American workers and unions are seeing their essential labor receive unprecedented public support not seen in decades. “Union approval ratings have been consistently high for a few years now, including during the pandemic when rates of unemployment have been high.” said John Logan, Ph.D., professor and director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.

Before this fall’s #Striketober began trending, the labor movement was not making many headlines. But when elected and industry leaders touted those working on the front lines of the pandemic as essential workers, public calls for better working conditions and wages immediately followed. As media attention has grown and a rising tide of public support for union workers has swelled, bargaining power for workers has been realized. Some of the highest profile instances this year of workers organizing for their rights have been at John Deere, Kellogg’s, and even Hello Fresh right here in Richmond, California. This surge in private sector workers organizing is both a throwback to the early labor movement and a new phenomenon, especially here in California where public sector union members far outnumber their private sector siblings.

“Union approval ratings have been consistently high for a few years now, including during the pandemic when rates of unemployment have been high."

- John Logan, Ph.D., professor and director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University

“For the first time in U.S. history, there are more public sector union members than private sector union members,” said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, where he teaches labor studies and Asian American studies. “Since the 1960s, there were a series of laws enacted to grant public workers the right to form and join unions, and consequently, we now see high unionization rates relatively in the public sector.” When comparing public sector unions like CSEA to private sector unions, the numbers are staggering. 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show one out of three public sector workers have union representation compared to one out of 20 in the private sector. “I do think there is a recognition of the critical role of public sector employees and education employees during the pandemic,” Wong said. “Public schools play an essential role, not only in terms of educational opportunities for children, but in providing food for low-income families. They are a lifeline for so many families struggling in California.”

As the birthplace of many national labor movements, California has always been a trailblazing state for unions. Since the days of César Chávez, the Golden State has organized more workers than any other state, including being home to the largest union of classified school employees in the nation. CSEA has undoubtedly capitalized on this rising momentum for labor, most notably in securing the governor’s signature on six different legislative bills, helping to elect CSEA’s own Jose Luis Pacheco to the CalPERS board, and defeating the anti-union recall election. CSEA chapters across the state have also successfully negotiated their own Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with school districts to improve workplace safety for members, and a recent member recruitment Blitz Day saw over 800 new members join.

CSEA members and the community pack the Oxnard School Board meeting to protest the layoffs of over 140 campus safety positions due to an incorrect interpretation of AB 2160.

CSEA members rally at school board meeting to prevent layoffs.

“Unionized workplaces in the United States are safer workplaces than non-union ones in the same sector,” Dr. Logan said. “Unions have also been key in pushing state and federal governments to enact stronger safety protections. There’s no reason to believe this won’t be true regarding the return to work after COVID-related shutdowns.” Nobody knows when COVID-related health safety measures at the workplace will end, but we do know that labor unions like CSEA will have a seat at the table when the time comes, and they will have the power of public support on their side. “I tell my members all the time that we are the power that drives this union,” said Lynn Villarreal, paraeducator and chapter president of Santa Clara Chapter 350. “When I go to the bargaining table, the district knows I have all my members behind me and that gives us a lot of clout. It gives us a lot of leverage.”

CalPERS Election

Statewide Blitz Day

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