Check out this story in the Sacramento Bee.
This story was front page news in some California newspapers, but didn’t get much coverage elsewhere. As the title of today’s post says, the latest public opinion polls in California – conducted by the reputable Field Poll organization – show a sharp drop in public support for labor unions.
This story is really about growing anger with public sector unions over strikes (e.g., the recent San Francisco transit strike) and (taxpayer supported) government employee pensions. The sometimes highly generous pensions have been (rightly in some cases, wrongly in many others) blamed for a lot of municipal government fiscal woes. California has many more real (and highly publicized) municipal pension abuses than most states.
When public sector unions are the bulk of remaining labor union membership and power, this is a big problem for the labor union movement. When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislature, last year, stripped public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights, Labor characterized Wisconsin as ground zero, a critical battle ground, for all labor union rights.
The effort to recall Walker failed, not only because conservative special interest money poured in from outside the state to support him, while national Democrats dithered, but because even in (generally) progressive Wisconsin, liberals are, at best, ambivalent, about public sector unions.
Public sector unions have always been viewed and treated differently from their private sector relatives. The clearest justification for this is still Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 letter to the National Federation of Federal Employees. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15445 . (Walker invoked FDR’s words in the recent battle in Wisconsin. His opponents pointed out that FDR, unlike Walker, was generally and ardently pro union, and that Walker’s motives were different).
With the private sector rate of unionization in the U.S. falling to its lowest percent since 1932, labor advocates, who view the decline as the major reason for stagnation of worker wages, face an uphill battle. How to leverage still strong, but increasingly unpopular, public sector unions in this fight, is a major challenge. California’s Field Poll confirms that.