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New Polls Find Support For Public Employee Unions

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AP

WASHINGTON -- As protests continue over the proposal by Gov. Scott Walker (R) to strip collective bargaining rights from public employees in Wisconsin, two new independent national media surveys released Monday night find Americans taking the side of organized labor.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center includes a single question on the Wisconsin controversy:

From what you've read or heard about the dispute between Wisconsin's governor and public employee unions over collective bargaining rights, do you side more with the governor [or] the public employee unions?

More side with the unions (42 percent) than with the governor (31 percent), with more than a quarter choosing neither side (9 percent) or unsure (18 percent). That's roughly the same result as another Pew survey taken earlier this month that found Americans typically side with public unions (44 percent) rather than state or local governments (38 percent) when the two disagree.

A second survey conducted by CBS News and The New York Times asks a series of questions on unions and the Wisconsin dispute, including a question on the issue of collective bargaining rights. Since that concept may be unfamiliar to many Americans, the CBS/NYT pollsters provide a brief description:

As you may know, collective bargaining refers to negotiations between an employer and a labor union's members to determine the conditions of employment. Some states are trying to take away some of the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. Do you favor or oppose taking away some of the collective bargaining rights of these unions? IF FAVOR OR OPPOSE: Do you favor/oppose that strongly or somewhat?

They found 60 percent opposed to taking away collective bargaining as described, 33 percent in favor and 7 percent uncertain. Strong opposition to efforts to remove collective bargaining on this survey also exceeds strong support by better than two to one (38 percent to 18 percent).

While previous polls on collective bargaining rights have been rare, a USA Today/Gallup survey last week left the term undefined, leading to criticism from a Republican pollster that some respondents might interpret the word "rights" too broadly. But even without the additional description offered by the CBS/NYT poll, Gallup obtained a virtually identical result: 33 percent favored a proposal "to take away some of the collective bargaining rights of most public unions," 61 percent opposed it and 6 percent percent were undecided.

However, as the Times reports, "labor unions are not exactly popular." Only a third of Americans (33 percent) rate unions in general favorably, while (25 percent) rate them unfavorably when also offered the option of saying they are undecided (19 percent) or have not heard enough to have an opinion (23 percent).

Moreover, only 39 percent say they have heard "a lot" about "the recent efforts in many states to reduce state budget deficits by cutting the benefits of public employees" (33 percent have heard some, 26 percent not much or nothing). Not surprisingly, Americans paying a lot of attention to these efforts are greatest in union households (56 percent) and households with a public employee (46 percent).

So while majorities back labor rights when prompted on the CBS/NYT survey, the dropoff in attention helps explain why support for public employee unions in Wisconsin in the Pew Research survey falls short of a majority.

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