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Union Members Less Content With Safety, Recognition at Work

by Andrew Dugan

Story Highlights

  • Union workers less satisfied with workplace safety and flexibility
  • Union workers more satisfied with employer-provided health insurance

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the U.S., employed Americans who report being members of labor unions are significantly less likely than nonunion employees to say they are "completely satisfied" with six of 13 job aspects. These include workplace safety, recognition for accomplishments, flexibility of hours and job security. In only one job aspect, employer-provided health insurance, are union workers significantly more likely than nonunion workers to say they are completely satisfied.

Satisfaction With 13 Job Aspects -- Union vs. Nonunion U.S. Employees

These findings are from an aggregate of interviews conducted from 2011 to 2015 as part of Gallup's annual Work and Education poll. This report compares the 2,586 employed U.S. adults who are not in a labor union with the 393 employed adults who report being in a union.

The largest gap between union members and nonmembers lies in the domain of workplace safety, with 57% of union members expressing complete satisfaction with their job's safety conditions, compared with 73% of nonmembers.

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A slightly smaller gap exists for recognition received at work -- 35% of union members versus 50% of nonmembers are content. Gallup research shows that frequent recognition of on-the-job accomplishments is an important driver of employee engagement.

Nonunion adults are more likely than union laborers to be completely satisfied with the flexibility of their hours (64% vs. 52%, respectively) and their boss or immediate supervisor (58% vs. 45%). Nonunion workers (53%) are also more likely than union workers (46%) to be satisfied with the amount of work required of them.

There are no statistical differences between the groups on several other dimensions of job satisfaction, including pay, vacation time, employer-sponsored retirement plans and levels of on-the-job stress. Notably, both union and nonunion workers report high levels of satisfaction with their relations with coworkers (67% and 70%, respectively). Coworker relations ranks as the top aspect in terms of satisfaction for both groups.

Employer-provided health insurance is the lone job characteristic for which union workers are statistically more likely to be completely satisfied than their nonunion counterparts, at 46% to 35%. In general, U.S. workers report an increased level of satisfaction with their employer-provided health plan compared with 2005 -- more so than for any other job characteristic.

Bottom Line

Historically, unions have been instrumental in improving the working conditions of the U.S. labor force, and their efforts have had a lasting effect on contemporary work culture. But labor union membership has declined to about a ninth of the workforce. Americans' approval of labor unions has generally been lower the past few years than in prior decades, including a historic low of 48% in 2009.

Current members of labor unions are significantly less likely than nonmembers to report being completely satisfied with a number of desirable job aspects, including workplace safety and flexibility of hours.

One reason that union members are less likely to be satisfied with several job characteristics is because many so-called "blue-collar" occupations -- which generally have high rates of unionization -- tend to be in fields that involve low- or no-skilled labor, comparatively more dangerous work environments and other such traits. In these cases, it is likely that fraught workplace conditions helped prompt unionization in the first place and principally explain the job satisfaction differences reviewed here.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on combined telephone interviews from Gallup's 2011-2015 Work and Education surveys, conducted each August with random samples of employed adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of 2,979 employed adults, the margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total sample of 393 union employees, the margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total sample of 2,586 nonunion employees, the margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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