On Labor Day, Unions Struggle With Decline

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On a day meant to celebrate working men and women, Minnesota union leaders have acknowledged the fact that tough times are ahead.

When it comes to unions, the numbers say an awful lot. In 1950, 36 percent of Americans who had private sector jobs were in unions. Today, that figure is 7 percent.

The only growth in unions over the decades has been in the public sector. While 7 percent of private sector workers are in unions, when you add in government workers, 12 percent of all Americans are in unions.

Republic victories, notably in Wisconsin, have led to massive changes in public employee union benefits, including roll backs in unions’ collective bargaining rights.

For unions, it was a new low, but it has also served as a rallying cry. In Madison, thousands of non-union members came to show support for unions.

“It’s possible that there is a sea tide of change in how the public looks at unions, and people in unions are aware of that and hopeful because of that,” said Peter Rachleff, a labor historian at Macalester College.

Unions are not about to surrender. At the annual Labor Day Parade at the State Fair, union members paraded with pride — and optimism.

“We feel there is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Jobs are beginning to pick up. The light rail transit has helped us considerably,” said Brian Beedle of the Carpenters Union Local 322.

In Minnesota, union membership is actually higher than it is in the rest of the country. Sixteen percent of Minnesota workers are in unions compared to 12 percent nationwide.

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