Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Blog Post · November 18, 2021

Californians Agree It’s Important for Workers to Organize

photo - Woman Working in a Packaging Warehouse

Over the past month, strikes and other labor actions have swept across California and the nation. While some unions have since settled, workers in many professions are demanding a closer look at labor practices.  COVID-19 had exposed issues with worker pay, benefits, and quality of life, and the post-pandemic return to the workplace further magnified tensions.

For California workers, pay has stagnated at the lower end of wages for decades. Yet even after recovering many jobs lost in the early months of the pandemic, the state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country as of September 2021. These factors, combined with a tight labor market, may have shifted the dynamic between workers and employers, and tipped the advantage toward workers in contract negotiations.

However, most California workers say they don’t belong to a labor organization, and relatively few are offered union membership at their current jobs. According to the November 2021 PPIC Statewide Survey, about three in ten (28%) employed Californians say they are in a workplace that offers membership or affiliation with a union, occupation association, worker center, or other group that represents workers, including 22% of part-time and 29% of full-time workers. A similar three in ten (29%) say they or someone in their immediate family is a member of a union.

The share who are offered union membership in California varies among demographic groups and across regions. Employed African American adults are the most likely to say they have been offered union membership at their current workplace, double the share of employed white adults. Workers in the Inland Empire and Central Valley are somewhat more likely than those in other regions to say they are offered this (26% Los Angeles, 26% San Francisco Bay Area, 22% Orange/San Diego).

While fewer employed Californians belong to unions than those who do not, Californians overwhelmingly agree that it is important for workers to organize so that employers do not take advantage of them (43% completely agree, 38% somewhat agree), while far fewer disagree (14% somewhat disagree, 5% completely disagree).

Support for worker organization crosses political parties: most Democrats, Republicans, and independents say they at least somewhat agree that it is important for workers to organize. That said, Democrats are most likely to say they completely agree (52%), followed by 41% of independents, and 24% of Republicans. About half or fewer across demographic groups completely agree that this is important. Agreement is highest among Latinos (54%), African Americans (50%), those with an annual income of less than $20,000 (53%), and Los Angeles residents (50%).

From pharmacists in northern California, to lecturers around the UC system, to film and television crews in southern California, workers are pushing employers to reconsider pay and work conditions. As the state and country grapple with COVID-19’s effects on labor and the workplace, PPIC will continue to track views on worker organization and unions.


coronavirus COVID-19 Economy employment future of work jobs Political Landscape Statewide Survey workers