The 48% of Americans now approving of unions represents the first sub-50% approval since Gallup first asked the question in the 1930s. The previous low was 55%, found in both 1979 and 1981.
Public reaction to labor unions is one of the longest-running trends The Gallup Poll has maintained. Gallup first asked "Do you approve or disapprove of labor unions?" in 1936, a year after Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act establishing the right of most private-sector employees to join unions, to bargain collectively with their employers, and to strike. That first poll found 72% of Americans approving of unions and only 20% disapproving.
While approval of unions has declined since 2008 among most major demographic and political groups, the biggest drop has been among political independents.
Why the drop? Gallup points to the GM bailout and the problems they are causing companies facing difficult economic times.
Organized labor was put in the spotlight last December as Congress considered a major bailout package for the ailing U.S. auto industry. Gallup polling at that time found a substantial segment of Americans blaming the auto unions for the industry's problems, although more blamed auto executives.
Perhaps accordingly, Gallup records significant increases in the August 2009 Work and Education survey compared with August 2006 in sentiment that unions have a negative effect on companies where workers are organized, and on the economy generally.
The percentage saying unions mostly hurt the companies where workers are organized has risen from 39% in 2006 to 46% in the latest poll. As a result, Americans are now evenly divided over whether unions mostly help or mostly hurt these companies, whereas in all previous measures the balance of opinion was positive.
The percent of workers who are members of unions have dropped significantly in recent years except in the public or government sector. In education, the teacher's unions have blocked or opposed nearly every meaningful effort at school reform. Their goal of course is money and jobs for teachers not the educational welfare of kids. In addition, unions have jumped on board the radical social agenda of the left thus doing further damage to society. Unions do have their place in society but in recent times they'll done more harm than good in many instances.