Numbers are a clue to unions' waning power – especially in the private sector. Less than 7 percent of private-sector workers now belong to a union, compared with more than 30 percent in the 1950s. Since 1983, about 3 million fewer people are represented by unions. And the economic downturn and pressures from globalization haven't helped.
The public sector, however, has been somewhat cushioned from those forces. Some 36 percent of state and local workers belong to unions (and that includes "right-to-work" states that prohibit union-only workplaces and have far smaller union rosters).