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A recent Gallup poll revealed a hopeful attitude shift in the American public – Union approval among the American people has never been higher, with 61% polled agreeing that unions help rather than hurt the economy. Other indicators, such as the desire for stronger unions and the idea that unions will become stronger in the coming year also show a renewed faith in union leadership and the idea of collective bargaining.
The shift in attitude – positive as it may be – is not reflected in the unions themselves. Membership at record lows, potential disputes on the horizon, and an aging labor force poses what may become the defining labor issue of our time; how do labor unions close the gap between popularity with the public and popularity with the labor force? And what does that mean for labor management?
There is a great hope that comes with the shifting attitudes towards union labor. The American people outside of the union landscape are once again beginning to recognize the importance of these unions and have begun to root for the American worker. The support from the outside will only strengthen the efforts on the inside. As the construction and maintenance industry continues to add jobs and bring in labor from all backgrounds, there is the hope that these general attitudes manifest themselves in new members joining the union ranks. But the ‘how’ remains the most difficult part of the equation.
In response, labor management must be ready to meet a growth in union membership with an increase in employment opportunities. Full union halls are only good during chapter meetings – the ultimate desire is for each and every member to be out in the field during the workday. We have seen growth in work hours performed under collective bargaining agreements over the past few years, but there is room for this number to explode. New contractors employing union labor is the symbiotic relationship that benefits labor and management together. If there is indeed union growth on the horizon, then management must mirror this growth to ensure the strength and solidity of all involved.
Only time will tell, but it is looking like unions may be turning a corner. Now is the time for union labor and management to capitalize on these winds of change – the American people are rooting for it.