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'Workers' Rights in America' survey:
'Majority says management has too much power

AFL-CIO releases 'workers' rights' study

By Porter Anderson
CNN Career

(CNN) -- "This study sounds an alarm about persistent discrimination and declining levels of trust in employers."

The president of the AFL-CIO minces few words in his prepared statement for Thursday's release of the labor federation's new survey of employee opinion.

"American workers," says John J. Sweeney, "fervently support rights to protect economic security, equal opportunity and reasonable working conditions but they see real gaps."

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Commissioned from Peter D. Hart Research Associates, the new study is titled "Workers' Rights in America: What Workers Think About Their Jobs and Employers."

And the federation's interpretations of its findings echo the last century's union organizers: "Two of three American workers say workplace rights need more protection," the study's summary reads. A "sharply rising majority says management has too much power."

Among key findings reported by Hart Research Associates, which surveyed 1,792 adults:

•   Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they support "much more or somewhat more protection for their rights." Fourteen percent of those asked said their rights are adequately protected now.

•   Sixty-three percent of respondents said "they have just some or not much trust in employers to treat employees fairly."

•   Fifty-seven percent of those asked said "management has too much power compared with (the power held by) workers." That result shows a jump of 10 percentage points over responses to the same question in 1996.

Read the study

For a look at the AFL-CIO study in its entirety, click here. A summary of the report is also available at the same link.

•   Fifty-six percent of respondents to the AFL-CIO's survey questions said "new laws are needed to hold corporations to a higher standard of responsibility in the way they treat workers." That's a 12-percentage-point rise from 1996 results.

•   Among African-American respondents, 47 percent said they've experienced race-based job discrimination. Hart Research reports the same response from 30 percent of the study's Latino respondents, 24 percent of Asians and 18 percent of all workers.

•   Twenty-three percent of women questioned said they've been sexually harassed at work. Three-quarters of women responding said a "glass ceiling" limits their advancement at work.

Labor Day timing

Results of the AFL-CIO survey are being released just hours before a new study on how many hours people work comes out from the United Nations' International Labor Organization.

John J. Sweeney, president, AFL-CIO  

Another study, released Wednesday by the National Association of Manufacturers, predicts that employment levels in manufacturing will stabilize by the end of this year and improve in 2002. This, after Manpower Inc. two days earlier released results of a study foreseeing continued low levels of new hiring in manufacturing through the final quarter of this year.

The Washington-based Employment Policy Foundation on Wednesday offered research indicating that millions of workers' retirements in the next 30 years will cause labor and skill shortages.

Like the recently released Andersen and Knowledge Systems & Research study of layoff "survivors" -- employees not laid off during corporate restructuring -- the new AFL-CIO survey focuses on worker attitudes.

The AFL-CIO study places some emphasis on tech-related work. When in Minneapolis, Minnesota, ran one of its own surveys on IT worker sentiment, results paralleled some of the AFL-CIO respondents' feelings of uncertainty and mistrust of management.

One of the questions asked survey respondents in its survey was "The last time you lost your job through layoffs, how long did it take you to find an equivalent replacement job?"

And the study then asked respondents how their new jobs' pay scales differed from the wages they'd lost in being laid off.

For a full report on the study -- released in March -- Click here.

And among its findings, the AFL-CIO highlights sentiments among respondents that the labor federation says don't reflect reality.

For example, some workers responding said they think it's illegal for employers to listen to employees' personal phone calls. Other respondents said they think managements can't legally videotape employees without their knowledge, or fire an employee for expressing political views. The AFL-CIO position is that these activities by employers are not illegal -- and that the majority of its 13 million members think they should be outlawed.

The federation cites 87-percent support in its survey sample for "economic rights," including protection for "a right to a living wage." An equally large percentage of respondents said they support protection for overtime pay.

The labor organization reports wide-ranging agreement on equal treatment for all workers: "White workers value protecting workers of color from discrimination," an AFL-CIO statement reads, "men support equal pay for women and younger workers support protection against age discrimination."

The sample of respondents included "oversamples of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, high-tech workers and union members." This, some observers might say, could be a factor not only on the anti-discriminatory opinions reported but also on strong support among respondents for the rights of employees to join unions without danger of retribution by management.


Hart Research Associates characterizes as rights working conditions including "a safe and healthy workplace," being "treated with respect by your employer," being "able to take time off to care for family, and to be able to take sick leave without losing one's job." At least 90 percent of respondents said they support such elements in their work lives.

The survey asked respondents to grade employers on several points. Fifty-three percent give employers a C, D or F in terms of supporting a living wage for all workers. When it comes to firing workers only for good cause, 42 percent of respondents gave their employers a C, D or F.

Sixty-three percent of those responding said they don't trust employers to treat employees fairly. That percentage rose to 79 percent among African-American respondents.

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  • Latino and Asian immigrants, study results indicate, said they have fewer benefits than other workers, including employer health insurance coverage.

    And 32 percent of overall respondents said they feel they've had less job security in recent years than before.

    The AFL-CIO study statement notes that high-tech workers' insecurity (41 percent) "persists even though they report having more education than workers in general -- 68 percent say they have college or post-college degrees, more than twice the rate in the general work force." Uncertainty among IT workers, particularly during months of heavy tech-sector layoffs, also has been documented in studies conducted by, a Web-based hub for IT employment based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

    The AFL-CIO's "Workers' Rights in America" survey's margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent.


    • International Labor Organization
    • AFL-CIO
    • Manpower Inc.

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