Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Wisconsin Protests: Do Americans Agree with Tea Party View of Unions?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Wisconsin Protests: Do Americans Agree with Tea Party View of Unions?

Article excerpt

In recent years, public support for labor unions has begun to wane. Will this trend continue as state and local governments face budget challenges? Protests in Wisconsin may be an indicator.

The tea party movement casts it as a battle to take state politics back from labor-union bosses and liberal interest groups. Union supporters say Republican lawmakers are putting the basic rights of working class Americans at risk. Which view do more Americans agree with? As union contract issues reverberate as state- budget sticking points in Wisconsin and other states, the American public doesn't fall neatly into either camp. The public's view on the subject is evolving, and how it shifts in coming months could help determine the near-term course of state politics and finances. In one survey taken early this month, the Pew Research Center asked a cross-section of Americans whether their view of labor unions is favorable or unfavorable. Although the share of respondents taking some form of favorable view (45 percent) was slightly larger than the camp with unfavorable views (42 percent), support for unions has clearly ebbed over the past decade. When Pew asked the same poll question in 1999, the margin was 59 percent "favorable" to 36 percent "unfavorable." Moreover, deeply held views of unions are more likely to be negative (17 percent say their view is "very unfavorable") than positive (11 percent say "very favorable). The opposite was the case as recently as 2007. At the same time, the poll underscored views that don't tend toward either extreme. Asked about "when you hear of a disagreement between state or local governments and unions that represent government workers," more Americans say their first reaction is to side with the union (44 percent) than with state or local governments (38 percent). And substantially more Americans see union contracts as ensuring that workers are "treated fairly" than as giving workers an "unfair advantage." As to their role in the private sector, the view is also mixed. A majority says unions have a positive impact on work conditions and worker pay, although many Americans worry that unions make it harder for US companies to compete globally. …

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