Union-backed survey finds public support for unions, especially for health care workers

By: - February 9, 2021 6:55 am
Act 10 protests at the Wisconsin Capitol 2011. Photo by Emily Mills CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Act 10 protests at the Wisconsin Capitol in 2011. (Photo by Emily Mills)

Most Wisconsin voters support unions, particularly for health care workers, along with policies to help people recover from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on health as well as on the economy, according to new survey findings.

“Voters in this state are clamoring for help,” said Mario Brossard of Global Strategy Group, which presented the survey results in a conference call Monday.

A decade after Gov. Scott Walker introduced Act 10, the 2011 legislation that all but eliminated most collective bargaining rights for public employees, more voters in the survey had favorable views of unions than unfavorable views. Unions for health care workers had the strongest favorability rating, but unions for teachers and for public employees also had a net positive favorability rating, the survey found.

Badger State Research, based in Madison, conducted the survey for Global Strategy, which presented the findings along with Wisconsin representatives of the Service Employees International Union. The poll was conducted of 800 Wisconsin registered voters over a five-day period from Nov. 19-24, and had a margin of error of 3.5%.

Overall, unions fared better in the survey than either Democrats or Republicans in the state Legislature. Asked their opinions of Democratic legislators as a group, 42% had a favorable opinion and 45% had an unfavorable opinion, while 40% viewed Republicans favorably and 48% unfavorably.

Labor unions generally were favorably viewed by 52% of people surveyed, as were health care workers’ unions in particular. Support was weaker for teachers’ unions (48% favorable) and for public employees unions (46% favorable), but in all four categories, the percentage of people with unfavorable views was markedly smaller.

Brossard said African American voters in the survey showed even stronger pro-union views — 77% viewing health care workers’ unions favorably, and 58% having positive feelings toward public employee unions.

The survey asked respondents which statement they agreed with more: “Public employees who have risked their lives during the coronavirus pandemic deserve the right to negotiate their waves, working conditions and safety,” or that “increased union power often does little to help public employees — it just lines the pockets of union leadership.”

The disparaging phrase is “a perspective that we hear articulated from Republican lawmakers,” said Matt Canter of Global Strategies. But with a margin of 64% to 33%, the people surveyed chose the statement expressing support for public employees’ right to organize.  

Some of the gap between favorability and unfavorability toward unions reflected a larger segment of people who responded that they had “no opinion” when compared to their opinions about lawmakers.“There’s a lot of unfamiliarity,” Brossard said. “I would suspect that as voters learn more, both numbers are likely to go up.”

The survey also included a list of policy questions on whether people favored keeping taxes low compared with providing adequate funding for the services government provides. It also queried respondents on a number of specific proposals — among them a price-control board to rein in prescription drug prices and living wage guarantees for health care workers and other frontline workers. Majorities of more than 80% supported or strongly supported those and other policies, Brossard said.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.