Field Poll

By David Siders
Published: Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 – 12:00 am

Public support for labor unions has plunged in California, with more voters for the first time saying they do more harm than good, according to a new Field Poll.

A plurality of registered voters – 45 percent – now feel that way, compared to 40 percent who say they do more good.

The poll registers a dramatic, 10 percentage point change in public opinion from two years ago, when voters rated labor unions far more positively. The measure follows heated controversies around public pensions, municipal bankruptcies and political campaigns involving organized labor – one of the most influential forces in California’s Democratic politics.

“It seems like they keep winning the battles,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said. “The question becomes, ‘Are they moving the public in the direction where they may lose the war?’”

DiCamillo attributed declining support for labor unions to growing concerns about public pension costs and, in the densely populated San Francisco Bay Area, frustration around recent transit strikes.

“It’s percolating more at the local level,” he said.

Labor unions secured a major victory when voters last year defeated Proposition 32, a measure designed to restrict unions’ ability to raise money for political campaigns. But San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed gained national attention after filing paperwork this fall to place a public pension ballot measure on next November’s ballot, and two Bay Area Rapid Transit District strikes contributed to a proposal by Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, to strip BART employees of their right to strike.

Californians are divided about whether public transit workers should be allowed to strike, with 47 percent of voters saying they should have this right and 44 percent saying they shouldn’t, according to the poll. Despite the San Francisco Bay Area’s liberal leaning, a majority of voters in the area – 52 percent – say public transit workers should not be allowed to go on strike.

The public’s view of labor unions overall is highly partisan, with a majority of Democrats supportive of organized labor and a majority of Republicans opposed.

But labor unions have lost support they once enjoyed among independent voters. While 48 percent of independent voters said in 2011 that labor unions do more good than harm, just 39 percent say so today. Among independent voters, a plurality – 44 percent – say labor unions do more harm.

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