Are Americans Willing to Take Away Public Union Rights?


Americans favor or oppose limiting public unions' collective bargaining power depending on how pollsters ask the question. If polls describe collective bargaining as public unions' right to bargain, the wording predisposes respondents to oppose policies purported to take away rights.

A Reason-Rupe poll of 700 Wisconsin residents on landlines and cell phones asked half the sample if they "support or oppose reducing collective bargaining rights for public employee unions" and 52 percent opposed. The other half of the sample was asked if they "support or oppose limiting collective bargaining for public employee unions" and 51 percent favored. The primary difference between these two polls is using the word "rights" when describing collective bargaining.


Before a political battle erupted over Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's attempt to curb public unions' collective bargaining, little national media covered public sector unions and the looming government employee pension crisis facing many state governments. Moreover, few Americans had heard of how public unions negotiate contracts or that public unions are distinct from private sector labor unions. Consequently, when national pollsters surveyed Wisconsinites and Americans nationally in spring 2011, question wording in the polls highly influenced responses.

In early 2011, much of the early polling framed the dispute over public unions' collective bargaining in terms of "rights." For instance, numerous pollsters found upwards of 55 percent oppose measures to "take away," "eliminate," "weaken," or "reduce" "collective bargaining rights" as they were so described.

A problem interpreting these poll results is that many Americans do not understand the collective bargaining process. In fact, only about 20 percent of Americans say they are "very familiar" with the process of collective bargaining. Consequently, wording of the question on surveys can highly impact response.

Querying the Roper Center iPoll database for "collective bargaining" or "union" in 2011 finds nine national polls asking about curbing public sector union collective bargaining power. Seven of the nine polls describe collective bargaining as public union's "right" to bargain; these polls find strong majority opposition to limiting public union contract negotiations. Two polls do not use the word "rights" in their questions about collective bargaining, and these find pluralities support limiting collective bargaining.

Survey Questions Using Word "Rights"

Survey Questions Not Using Word "Rights"

Americans are not clear on the public union collective bargaining process. Consequently, framing questions about public sector reform in terms of taking away rights confounds survey response. America's rich historical narrative of protecting individuals' rights predisposes respondents to oppose policies purported to take away rights.

Full poll results can be found here and cross tabs here.

ORC International conducted fieldwork for the poll, May 14th-18th 2012 of both mobile and landline phones, 708 Wisconsin adults, margin of error +/- 3.7%.  Likely Wisconsin voters (609, MOE +/-4%) include registered respondents who said they are absolutely certain to vote or very likely to vote in the June 5th recall election for governor.

Emily Ekins is the director of polling for Reason Foundation where she leads the Reason-Rupe public opinion research project, launched in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @emilyekins.

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  1. Crowdsourcing editing comments go hier

    1. Before a political battled erupted over Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to curb public unions’ collective bargaining,

      There’s an extra ‘d’ in there. 😉

  2. They can organize and talk all they want. Just no special privileges under the law. And I’m convinced that unions in public sector jobs are a bad idea altogether.

    1. I’ve long wondered why the lefties want there to be public sector unions so badly. After all, they’re always lecturing us on how the gubmint is the source of all fairness and justice. Why would somebody working for such an entity need a union?

      1. It is a fairly efficient way of diverting some of that government pay to the DNC.

      2. I’ve long wondered why the lefties want there to be public sector unions so badly.

        Pubsec unions increase the size and power of the state. They are a mechanism for diverting money to the pro-state party, for increasing the amount of society’s resources consumed by the state, and for protecting state agents from accountability.

        1. And once you get enough people dependent on the State’s largesse, the subservient class and those that tend to them provide enough of an electoral constituency to make elections a breeze from there on out.

    2. Yes – In the private sector, unions negotiate against owners / managers. In the public sector, they negotiate against the politicians they bought with dues extracted from their members against their will.

      1. Unions should also have to negotiate against other unions. One of the biggest problems with unions is the granting of exclusive representation.

        1. Restraint of trade is something that does get overlooked, that is for sure.

    3. It’s a bad idea altogether because they are not collectively bargaining in the first place. They are agreeing with other employees (legislatures or sometimes just employees of the legislatures) how much they should be paid and how their benefits should be defined, instead of with their employers (the taxpayer.) It’s the third-party-payer problem in fucking overdrive.

      1. Agency problem. Our agents have no incentive to represent our interests.

        1. Exactly. There is no arms lenngth transaction when it comes to pubsec unions.

          The pols need to limit the bargaining rights of the police and firefighters too.

          I have a friend who is active in Repub politics in STL. A couple of years ago he was clueing me in on how the union fire fighters had been able to get Dems a majority on the board of one county fire protection districts and how they fleeced the taxpayers for a few years as they gave themselves all sorts of favorable work/OT and on call rules. It was really something.

      2. For fuck sakes the biggest progressive turd of them all saw the folly in public union rights.

        “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.”

    4. Stop using words to mean specific things, you philistine.

  3. Making everything little thing they want a “right” is standard liberal playbook.

    1. And these polling results demonstrate so very neatly why they seek to define everything as a right.

      The sad but true reality is that, while preserving rights is a noble inclination among our citizenry, the ability to properly identify, define, and categorize what is inherently a “right” vs. what is an entitlement is woefully lacking in our society. I try whenever possible to illuminate this conception of what the prerequisites of a right are but it’s often falling on deaf ears (or inadequate brains more likely).

      Pretty sure, the Dems will start framing SS and MC and other entitlement programs as “rights” and the fiscal peril of this nation will hasten.

      1. “Wlll start”? Seems to me that they already are. Heck, they’ve been declaring universal healthcare to be a “right,” and that hasn’t even been implemented yet.

    2. Maybe I’m not wasting my breath by arguing with people when they misuse the word “right” after all. How strange!

  4. I am not normally a fan of Mickey Kaus. And yes he is picking on the retarded kid here. But his take down of E.J. Dione on this subject is just brilliant and makes a larger and I think important point about liberals in general.


    It would be one thing for Dionne to argue, as I’m sure he often has, that unions are necessary to prevent exploitation of workers, redress a power imbalance, reduce income inequality, etc.. But that’s not the argument he’s making here, perhaps because it would be a tough sell. Instead, he’s taking a short cut around those annoying policy disputes and arguing that because Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker attempted a permanent structural change instead of working within existing arrangements, he’s guilty of trying “to alter the rules and tilt the legal and electoral playing field.”

    In effect, Walker’s an extremist. Work within the Wagner Act to fight labor?OK! Try to alter the Wagner Act?beyond the pale. The Wagner Act (and state-collected union dues) are part of the “rules.” You can’t change the rules. The rules are here to stay.

    Marxists would call this “reification”?the attribution of a false permanency to what are in fact only transient, man-made institutions (like the organizations created by the Wagner Act). … reification has now become the routine basis for Democratic arguments against Republican reform.

    1. A competent third grader could refute EJ Dionne’s typical argument. The man is a village idiot of the partisan hack variety.

      1. Klaus is as I said picking on the retarded kid. But does so in a way that shows just how reactionary liberals have become.

    2. “Marxists would call this “reification”?the attribution of a false permanency to what are in fact only transient, man-made institutions (like the organizations created by the Wagner Act)…”

      And like collective bargaining “rights”.

  5. I remember a Sunday morning news show welfare reform discussion once where a reporter stated confidently that eliminating welfare payments couldn’t happen because welfare was an entitlement.

    Like somehow what the legislature creates the legislature cannot undo, as long as what it originally did is a “good thing” in the view of some.

    1. See the link above.

      1. Yep, I read it earlier today. Spot on. Even Kaus can find a nut occasionally.

        1. Kaus is a smart guy who twists himself in knots trying to convince himself that liberalism really can work. He just can’t let it go and admit it is a failure.

          1. good description. I can’t help liking Kaus, but he does seem to miss the bigger picture.

            1. Yes, this is a tree and that, that, that, that, that, that, that are trees. But this is in no way a forest.

  6. ATLANTA ? Georgia’s Labor Department is asking employers and others to turn in people collecting unemployment benefits who fail drug screenings, but so far the agency has gotten no complaints.

    Labor Department Commissioner Mark Butler says the measure is aimed at reducing unemployment fraud. Labor officials say testing positive for drugs amounts to fraud and would disqualify someone from collecting benefits.

    The policy began in March, and the department sent notices to employers about fraud and abuse reporting. Those reporting suspected fraud may do so anonymously, and the Labor Department will verify claims before people are removed from the unemployment rolls.

    Republican lawmakers voted this year to require drug testing as a requirement to receive welfare benefits in Georgia. The state’s unemployment rate of 9 percent is above the national average.


    1. So it is not enough to just not give them the job, we have to also turn them in for fraud? And it is also good to know that every single problem facing government in Georgia has apparently been solved. But a bunch of fucking yahoos.

      1. How is it fraud? Is smoking weed at home after work fraud as well?

        1. They must consider doing drugs employment. Otherwise, I don’t see how they could consider it unemployment insurance fraud.

    2. asking employers and others to turn in people collecting unemployment benefits who fail drug screenings

      If they have an employer, how are they collecting unemployment?

      1. No. It’s for people that are on unemployment that are offered a job, but fail the drug test. The state wants the employers to rat them out.

        1. Ahhhh….

          Sorry, the less communication with the government the better in my book.

  7. Americans are not clear on the public union collective bargaining process.

    Well I’m not clear on the process and I like to consider myself at least a notch above retard.

    The problem is that the process is complicated due to the enormous amount of legislation, and the subsequent regulatory infrastructure, that surrounds it. And all of this varies by state.

    So I think that people don’t even know what they don’t know.

    1. And the people who benefit from the system have every reason to lie and misinform the pubic.

      1. Case and point: look at the wonderfully placed Barnett ad floating around Reason: it’s called “Divide and Conquer: and features a picture of Walker sandwiched between the Koch Brothers with a link to a website.

        1. Walker is going to conquer the Koch Bros.? Guy’s got balls!

  8. These aren’t “rights”, they are priviliges. Of course when I made that point to a left-winger he, I shit you not, used the fact that the US is signatory to the UN Declaration of Human Rights as proof that public sector workers in Wisconsin have the right to collectively bargain on everything.

    1. I didn’t see anything in the declaration that said the unions had to be negotiated with in return.

      Tell your friend to go read Article 17(2): No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

      Public sector unions negotiating with pet politicians stinks of arbitrary.

  9. The Union City police officer who shot and killed Ariston Waiters said waiting for a decision on his culpability in the incident was difficult.

    “I’ve had to move my family because of threats,” Officer Luther Lewis told Channel 2 Action News. “I’m separated from my job. Separated from my family.”


    Boo fucking hoo, pig shit.

  10. They should also phrase the question as : “Are you for or against being screwed by parasitic rent-seeking government-bureaucrat unions?”

    I wonder if that would have an effect on the results.

    1. I was thinking of something more along the lines of “Do you favor prying the sucker-shaped mouths of overpaid drones with chairs the shape of their asses off the public tit?”

  11. Enjoy Every Sandwich|6.1.12 @ 12:41PM|#
    I’ve long wondered why the lefties want there to be public sector unions so badly. After all, they’re always lecturing us on how the gubmint is the source of all fairness and justice. Why would somebody working for such an entity need a union?

    Yes, it’s interesting how often we’ve been lectured by one or another of our resident liberals that we have no right to complain about taxation or condemnation of property because our democratically elected masters have voted or them. Remember what they say about price and wage controls, rent control, or executive compensation. As far as liberals are concerned all of those things can be set “fairly” by the government with democratic justice.

    But the same democratically elected government will suddenly become unjust when it comes to setting wages and working conditions for government workers?

  12. I remember when Occupy Wall Street there were some libertarians suggesting that liberatarians support it. I immediately questioned this, especially once the AAW and the public sector unions started joining in since how exactly can libertarians form an alliance with government employees demanding higher salary increases? I suppose the only possible alliance is of a lesser evils variety, i.e. that giving teachers a higher paycheck is better than war. Even if you were to believe that, I mean still?

  13. Gee, and here I see the biggest difference between the two questions is the use of LIMITING vs REDUCING.
    After all, a lot of people may not want to REDUCE the current rules but certainly don’t think they should be UNLIMITED.

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