37 Lab. Stud. J. 5 (2012)

handle is hein.journals/labstuj37 and id is 1 raw text is: 
                                                                      Official Journal of
                                                                      United Association for
Articles                                                              Labor Education

Public Perceptions of Unions
                                                        Reprints and permission: http://www.
                                                          DOI: 10.1 177/0160449X12436796
Monica Bielski Boris'

In August 2009, the Gallup Poll reported a significant drop in the favorability rating
for labor unions among Americans. Fewer than half those polled, 48 percent, approved
of labor unions, down from 59 percent in 2008.1 The rating also represented the low-
est level since Gallup began asking as part of its annual Work and Education Survey,
Do  you approve or disapprove of labor unions? in 1936, one year after the passage
of the National Labor Relations Act, which granted most private-sector employees in
the United States the right to join unions and engage in collective bargaining. In 1936,
72 percent of Americans approved of unions, and only 20 percent disapproved.2 The
approval rating remained between 60 percent and 70 percent until 1979, with a drop
to 55 percent in 1979, the previous low level.3 The poll revealed a sentiment being felt
by unionists at the time that the economic downturn had created anger and fear among
the public that was at times being directed at union workers.
   In the United States, this was most noticeable in the dialogue around the hardships
facing American automakers  and the subsequent government loans to General Motors
and Chrysler. It was common   to hear news commentators  or people on  the streets
blaming  the high wages  and  Cadillac benefit packages of the UAW-represented
autoworkers for the problems of the industry.4 The less-than-positive public sentiment
captured by the 2009 Gallup Poll continued into 2011, as battles over public-sector
workers  and their rights to collective bargaining developed in a number of states,
including Wisconsin,  Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Florida, and Missouri. A  slew of
Republican  governors introduced legislation that would limit the rights of public-
sector employees  with the justification that budgetary problems demanded it. The
problems were  again blamed on workers and their unions.
   Labor-focused academics  and practitioners began to question the root of this shift
in public opinion, and at the 2011 United Association for Labor Education Conference,
two panels were  organized with papers addressing the public's perceptions of labor
unions. This special issue presents four of these papers, representing a diversity of
approaches  to the topic. The authors come from  the fields of industrial relations,
business, and labor education. Their studies utilize international survey data, intensive
case studies, economic data analysis, and pedagogical modeling.
   Three articles include countries outside the United States and serve to expand our
look at public perceptions of unions beyond the U.S. model. Givan and Hipp use the

'University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana-Champaign, IL, USA

Corresponding Author:
Monica Bielski Boris, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 601 E.John St., Champaign, IL
61820-571, USA
Email: mbielski@illinois.edu

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