People hold placards during a protest in support of Amazon workers in Union Square, New York on February 20, 2021.Image: Enter Bentancur (Getty Images)
Workers looking to mobilize at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse and elsewhere are in good company. That’s according to a new Morning Consult / Politico poll which found 77% of registered voters said they support employee rights to collective bargaining. That support, unlike just about everything else nowadays, transcended political affiliation. 89% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans said they supported collective bargaining for workplace conditions including pay, health care, and time off.
That support dipped back down though when voters were asked their opinions of unions specifically. There, just 54% of Democrats and 37% of Republicans expressed support. Those findings run slightly against a separate Gallup Poll released last September which found public perceptions of unionization in the US had reached their highest points since 1965, with 90% of Democrats and 47% of Republicans polled saying they approved of unions.
Americans’ evolving feelings on collective bargaining and unionization are occurring just as Amazon, one of the nation’s largest employers, faces historic worker mobilization. Last week, workers at a second warehouse in Staten Island filed a petition asking to be represented by the Amazon Labor Union. Meanwhile, workers at the Bessemer, Alabama Amazon site are set to vote on unionization for a second time following a failed 2021 attempt.
Still, despite some clear signs of public support and significant gains in several sectors, labor union membership as a whole in the US declined last year. According to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last month, the number of wage and salary workers in a union dipped by 241,000 people in 2021. Around 10.3% of workers were enrolled in a union in 2021, according to the data, down from 10.8 % the year before. At the same time though, the country saw a surge in union activity at the end of the year. Between August and October, at least 40 workplaces had gone on strike in the US according to Bloomberg Law, nearly double the amount during the same time in 2020.
One area where unions aren’t in decline is tech. The industry as a whole saw record numbers of new unions formed last year, according to recently released data from the group Collective Action in Tech. Across the industry, 12 new unions emerged along with 69 reported instances of collective action. The year began with the high-profile formation of the Alphabet Workers Union, followed by tech workers at The New York Times, Code for America, and 10 others. Outside of unions, the industry also saw major instances of workplace activism, most notably by workers at historically tight-lipped Apple, who spoke out against alleged cases of discrimination under the #AppleToo banner. That movement appears to have kept up its momentum in 2021, with workers at Activision Blizzard-owned Raven software announcing their own union formation last month.
Of course, public opinion — both in tech and more broadly — only accounts for so much. Workers still have to face pushback from employers, something particularly true at union-busting veteran Amazon. The company, which has previously created heat maps measuring the likelihood of Whole Foods stores to unionize and even went as far as to hire the actual Pinkerton’s to spy on warehouse workers, hasn’t shied away from its hatred of unions. More recently in the Staten Island case, Amazon has been accused by the National Labor Relations Board of surveilling workers.
Public polling and voter sentiment are all well and good, but they are not perfect predictors of whether or not any given policy or initiative will actually materialize. By this time next year, however, several major votes will have occurred painting a clearer picture of the actual, real health of workers and unions in the US