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A recently released Gallup survey indicates 71% of Americans now approve of labor unions - the highest reading since 1965.

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Restaurant waiter

Gallup finds “the low unemployment rate that developed during the pandemic altered the balance of power between employers and employees.” A professor in Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University disagrees with that conclusion citing a shift in generation demographic working lower-skilled jobs.

Dr. Paul Isely is associate dean in the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University.

“What we see is that millennial group were people born before 1995 okay. After 1980-82, depending on which version you look at, those people increased the labor force as we went through the early 2,000s. So, those people are entering the labor force in the early 2,000s through about 2012, 2013, 2014. So, we had this big pile of people coming in as the Baby Boom echoed, the millennials, and they increase the number of people coming in. But as soon as that dropped off and we had the Generation X echo, the Gen Z, we had fewer kids, from fewer people, and that resulted in a lot fewer young people. And we immediately saw the wages start to jump up. So, this is not a COVID thing. This is not a Ukraine thing. This is just demographics that we've known for 10 years were going to lead to more unionization and higher wages for low-income workers as we went through the 2020's."

I asked, "Why this generation? Why now?"

Dr. Isely's response? "Well, think about it. We don't have enough workers. So, what happens if you're trying to make the same amount of stuff with fewer workers. They have to work really, really hard and really, really fast and do a lot of different things. So, not only do we have not enough workers, but each of those workers we’re asking to do a lot more. And that's creating stress. That's creating quality of life decreases.
And now, with the pandemic and with the fact the demographics have moved as far as they have over the last 10 years, workers are understanding that they can ask for more than that. One of the ways you do that, or can do that, is through collective bargaining. And so therefore by unionizing, you can say, ‘hey, I can't do that workload. Hey, I can't do that type of scheduling. Hey, I need to have vacation. Hey, I need a larger wage. Hey, that's not a safe way to do things.’ And I can now do that because number one; I'm just worn out from working too hard. And so, I need to do something. And number two; I discovered that I have more power because there's not enough workers to replace me."

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.