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2/3 of Americans approve of unions — slightly down from last year, but still high

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hollywood writers and actors are on strike, so are some hotel workers. Auto workers could be next. Even as contract negotiations hit impasse after impasse, labor unions have plenty of support across the country. NPR's Andrea Hsu has the results of a new Gallup survey.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: This latest survey finds two-thirds of Americans approve of unions. That's down a few percentage points from last year, but it continues a trend that stands in sharp contrast to the last six decades. Lydia Saad, Gallup's director of U.S. social research, says it's due to the high visibility of unions over the past few years.

LYDIA SAAD: The accumulation of labor battles that have been going on.

HSU: At places like Starbucks.

SAAD: At the same time, we've had Republicans push back on corporate America, so perhaps making them more sympathetic to organized labor.

HSU: Now, there is still a lot of skepticism about unions. A third of respondents said they believe unions mostly hurt the U.S. economy. But Saad points out that's down from 2009, a year after the auto industry got bailed out in the depths of the Great Recession.

SAAD: 2009, you had a majority of Americans saying that unions mostly hurt the economy.

HSU: One thing that's remained steady - support for workers themselves. In these David-and-Goliath battles, Saad says, Americans historically sympathize with labor. In the latest survey, Gallup found 72% side with the striking Hollywood writers over the Hollywood studios.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting) Fists up, pens down.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) LA is a union town.

HSU: And even more side with the United Auto Workers, led by Shawn Fain, over the Detroit automakers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAWN FAIN: And it's time. It's time to take back what's ours.

(CHEERING)

HSU: Saad notes the strong support for labor unions is not being driven by personal connections, as it was in the '50s.

SAAD: It's just definitely being driven by something else today and just these broader attitudes about worker rights or corporate wealth or whatever it may be.

HSU: After all, only 10% of U.S. workers belong to unions today, the lowest on record.

Andrea Hsu, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MABEL AND 24KGOLDN SONG, "OVERTHINKING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.
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