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Triangle Shirtwaist fire: 100 years later, how are unions perceived?

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RELATED: What Wisconsin says about labor unions' clout in America

In a survey in February, Pew found that most Americans still see unions having a positive effect on salaries, benefits, and working conditions. But the survey also found people divided on whether unions have a positive or negative effect on workplace productivity (34 to 30 percent) or whether they increase the availability of good jobs (32 to 33 percent).

“Most tellingly … the survey found only 45 percent expressing an overall favorable view of labor unions – close to the lowest level in a quarter century – while 41 percent held an unfavorable view,” writes Allen.

These days, public and political focus has been on public employee unions.

It’s not just their numbers – government employees are more than twice as likely to be union members than are private sector workers, 35 to 13 percent, according to the Gallup polling organization. It’s that they’ve been targeted as the cause of state financial woes by Republican governors such as Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Chris Christie in New Jersey.

Partisan divide over collective bargaining

Fights there and in other states over public employee unions – especially regarding collective bargaining – has become very partisan, Gallup finds.

“These differences are large,” Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport wrote recently. “Last year, 71 percent of Democrats nationally approved of labor unions, compared to 49 percent of independents, and just 34 percent of Republicans.”

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